With government funding to universities decreasing each year due to the country’s fiscal constraints, every effort must be made to counter this to stop universities descending into deep financial distress. This includes institutions positioning themselves as entrepreneurial universities.

This opening message at the EDHE Lekgotla 2022 was delivered virtually by the Acting Deputy Director General for University Education, Dr Marcia Socikwa (left), on behalf of the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande.</pDr Socikwa suggested that universities, within an entrepreneurial context, needed to dedicate their focus on translating research into applications that might be commercialised. “In such an environment, there is ample opportunity for mutually beneficial partnerships with industry, for example by making resources and intangible assets available to the university that public money would typically not be able to afford.”

She said this year’s theme, #movetomarket, underscored the importance of the commercialisation of research while positioning student entrepreneurs for active participation in the economy by entering the market with their products and services.

Programme funding

She reiterated the DHET’s commitment to the development of appropriate steering mechanisms, effective oversight, monitoring and evaluation, teaching and learning, as well as funding.

“The EDHE Lekgotla 2022 and the Studentpreneurs Indaba bear testimony to what can be accomplished through the right strategic mechanisms and funding.” DHET supports the national Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme through the University Capacity Development Programme (UCDP), which is supported from the University Capacity Development Grant (UCDG).

These funds, she said, are allocated to universities to work with relevant partners in transforming and capacitating universities in areas that include teaching and learning, research, staff development, student support and curriculum/programme development. Dr Socikwa said: “The second iteration of EDHE – this phase started in 2021 and ends in 2023 – is aimed at increasingly capacitating universities to expand and deepen their entrepreneurship development response.

“The focus is on supporting universities in equipping students and graduates for economic participation through entrepreneurship; supporting academics across disciplines to develop entrepreneurship through teaching, learning and research; and capacitating universities as ecosystems for entrepreneurship and innovation. This, of course, requires investment. Our department has committed funding for this important programme, and we hope that it will expand to include all branches of Post-school Education and Training (PSET) in the future.”

Just under R29 million has been set aside to support the EDHE programme, in addition to R8 million allocated to the programme in 2018-2021. Said Dr Socikwa: “We are aware this is insufficient for such a huge programme, hence the collaboration with other interested parties is imperative.”

Partnerships, sector transformation

Reiterating the importance of commercialising applications emerging from research, Dr Socikwa said innovation and entrepreneurship are crucial for economic growth and development, and the entrepreneurial university prominently innovates.

She stressed the need for partnerships where industry, government and institutions are on an equal footing, adding that collective entrepreneurial action at these levels is at the heart of the transformation phenomenon. “University-Industry relationships characteristic of an entrepreneurial university and social impact should be complimentary between partners. Universities are supported by the Ministry in various forms to forge these partnerships and the University Capacity Development Grant is available for this purpose,” she said.

A university environment where innovation gives rise to entrepreneurial ventures should include a curriculum that stimulates and supports the development of entrepreneurial mindset and skills, regardless of academic discipline.  Transforming universities into becoming part of the larger entrepreneurship ecosystem ensures that students are equipped to participate in the economy.

“Transformation is imperative in the current economic climate and the changing world of work,” Dr Socikwa said, adding that universities had made significant strides in this regard.

Communities of Practice

She recognised the critical role played by the five national EDHE Communities of Practice (CoPs): Entrepreneurial universities, entrepreneurship teaching and learning, entrepreneurship research, and student entrepreneurship. Dr Socikwa said: “These CoPs are actively involved in national projects aligned with their objectives, including planning the relevant tracks in the lekgotla programme.”

Dr Socikwa said that two of these CoPs were focused on supporting critically important student entrepreneurship.

  • The EDHE Studentpreneurs CoP, consisting of university-nominated student entrepreneurs and leaders, play a vital role in advocating for student entrepreneurs.
  • The EDHE Community of Practice for Student Entrepreneurship is made up of faculty and support professionals who design and coordinate university student entrepreneurship initiatives, such as the annual Student Entrepreneurship Week and the national EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity.

Over the past three years, Dr Socikwa said, the EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity had become an important student-focused project in the sector.  This project identifies existing student businesses and promising student entrepreneurs across the country and encourages financial and business support for high-potential ventures. The finalists become role models, demonstrating that student entrepreneurship has many faces and ranges from research-based high-tech businesses to basic businesses that meet needs in the local community.

She also applauded increasing senior management support of entrepreneurial initiatives – evidenced by an increase in participation in executive leadership workshops on entrepreneurship and commercialisation.  She asked that they also support collaboration and engagement between institutions and other stakeholders to generate entrepreneurial capacity and enhance the socio-economic impact of universities.

Empowering student women

While celebrating that nearly 62% of graduates were women, the Acting DDG: University Education branch expressed concern about the low representation of student women in entrepreneurship.  She was however delighted that EDHE had introduced a Student Women Economic Empowerment Programme (SWEEP) aimed at equipping student women for entrepreneurial activity in the context of gender-based violence and the under-representation of student women in entrepreneurship. (She announced that the first SWEEP Student Chapter would be launched at Nelson Mandela University, during the EDHE Lekgotla 2022.)

Recalling that three of the four category winners in the EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity 2021, were student women, Dr Socikwa singled out the first woman overall winner, UCT medical student Tshegofatso Masenya (below), whose company, GoShare – a donation-based crowdfunding platform – enables tertiary students to raise funds to cover their outstanding fee debt.

Praising Ms Masenya, Dr Socikwa said GoShare created “a channel to bridge between donors and students in need of financial assistance by offering security, transparency and upholding students’ dignity throughout the fundraising process.

“Since its inception, GoShare has been sought out by over a thousand students across South Africa and has seen the settlement of both current registration fees along with historical fee debt of students in public universities.”

She reiterated the department’s commitment to support equitable participation of females in the economy.

Dr Socikwa reflected on the empowering role Student Affairs entities play in the university, demonstrated this year by a pledge of support from leaders of the South African Association of Senior Student Affairs Professionals (SAASSAP) and the National Association for Student Development Professionals (NASDEV).

Economic Activation Offices

She referred to the recent National University Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Baseline study conducted through EDHE, whose findings indicated a need to coordinate entrepreneurship development efforts, structures and resources within universities to deliver a greater impact within the ecosystem.

“For these reasons, we are implementing the pilot phase of establishing Economic Activation Offices at the first 10 partnering universities, with the second round of applications being invited this week,” Dr Socikwa said. She announced that Standard Bank had come on board as a partner in support of this initiative. The Economic Activation Offices would facilitate coordination, collaboration and information sharing.

Policy setting

Touching on the role of policy in support of entrepreneurship, she said “the National plan on Post-school Education and Training calls for a responsive PSET system with the goal to provide qualification programmes and curricula that are responsive to the needs of the world of work, society and students.”

The objectives of this Plan included to drive a diverse range of programmes relevant to locality and responsive to community needs, responsive to the World of Work. The Plan also championed a range of mechanisms to improve Research, Innovation, Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship within the PSET System. This was the foundation on which the decision to support EDHE and strengthen its reach to the entire PSET system was based.

Applauding the successful Lekgotla

“The Department is proud of the great enthusiasm that universities continue to show, as displayed by the scale of participation of universities in the EDHE activities. This leaves me with no doubt that the programme will achieve its objectives.”

At the national level, she said, the two Departments under the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation had started collaborating to ensure that the programme is fully supported and strengthened.

“The Lekgotla is a platform where new collaboration and partnerships are forged, new research is inspired, and entrepreneurship practice is enhanced across disciplines.”

Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa

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