Since its inception in 2016, the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) Programme, an initiative of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) in partnership with Universities South Africa (USAf), has been steadfast in fostering entrepreneurship in the public university system. The intent is to inculcate an entrepreneurial mindset in students, achieve same in faculty and, ultimately, transform public universities into entrepreneurial institutions.

Having realised pockets of excellence in universities, over the years, EDHE introduced a new category in the annual EDHE Awards in 2022, namely the EDHE Entrepreneurship Learning and Teaching Excellence Awards. This recognises that practical and relevant teaching can benefit students while contributing to developing an entrepreneurial culture in institutions. It was also to acknowledge that incorporating innovation and entrepreneurship into the curriculum can be challenging but is not insurmountable, hence the milestones realised in some institutions, in diploma, degree and short learning programmes introduced to date, to deliver valuable knowledge.

As such, the Learning and Teaching Excellence Awards seek to recognise the academics continuously producing incredible outcomes — often going against the grain.

At the recently concluded Executive Leadership Workshop in Cape Town, the audience heard insights from these Awards’ initial winners.

Introducing innovation requires agility

Dr Ruenda Loots (left), Programme Leader and Lecturer at the School of Public Leadership at Stellenbosch University, designed a Diploma in Sustainable Development. The journey has since expanded with the addition of an advanced diploma to the programme this year. She said these initiatives took vast amounts of risks. However, she advocated for agility and doing things differently in higher education, notwithstanding the uncomfortable attention that that can draw.

Her course involves a series of interlinked modules intended to drive students to explore values, perspectives and paradigms that shape sustainability concepts.

With a background in biochemistry, she said being in higher education, focusing on sustainable development and entrepreneurship, was initially strange. But her penchant for sustainable design enabled her to initiate the programme, built on the premise that sustainability and entrepreneurship should go hand-in-hand for a sustainable African future.

“One of the joys of our programme is that it is interdisciplinary… and that is what we need in education, for people to think across disciplines at their universities,” she said.

Dr Loots described the EDHE Entrepreneurship Learning and Teaching Awards as incredibly valuable for academics. She said in a world where they are overworked, overwhelmed, and at times, tired, the competition application process provides a critical reflection moment that helps them evaluate their work and ways to strengthen their programmes, going forward.

Even though the Diploma and the Advanced Diploma in Sustainable Development both took off at Stellenbosch University, it was not without challenges. Dr Loots mentioned universities’ bureaucracy as one of the hurdles they often encounter when introducing change.

“When you attend something like a programme renewal, and there is an 18-months gap between making changes and implementation because it has to go through various committee; it becomes challenging,” she said. 

She also highlighted the importance of partnering with other entities and continuously reviewing what works. “The space we are in allows for innovation because we can chuck out rigid timetables and play and learn with our students. In many ways, I think the smallest, most beautiful principle applies, ‘when you are trying to do something new, you have to keep it at a manageable size,’ to experiment and get rapid feedback; take those lessons, change and adapt.”

Having shared these views, Dr Loots expressed gratitude for the support she had received from the Stellenbosch University leadership in making the success of these programmes possible. This spoke to the essence of this workshop, where deputy vice-chancellors, deans and executive directors gather to explore how they can strategically influence and foster entrepreneurial thinking at their respective institutions.

Thinking creatively for societal impact

Another initiative that received recognition in 2022, also from Stellenbosch University, was the Ex-Cell Project, run by Mr Juan Ontong and Ms Sher-Lee Arendse-Fourie (middle below), financial accounting lecturers at the university’s School of Accountancy.

Explaining the formation of the programme, Ms Arendse-Fourie said with the youth unemployment plague in South Africa, they realised that incarcerated individuals experience further hindrances in securing jobs due to their criminal records. Theirs is a programme run by the university for non-students – a social good undertaking in SU’s neighbouring community.

Ex-Cell Project teaches basic business acumen to inmates at Drakenstein Prison to enable them to create their own employment post-incarceration. The programme also aims to reintegrate them into society upon release.

“We give them the opportunity to apply the business skills that they have learnt; they present a business idea, apply all the business skills, and we basically advise them and show them how to create CVs to enhance their opportunities at employment and ease that reintegration into society,” she said.

Adding his voice, Mr Ontong said this programme, now in its third year, gave its recipients two options – to go back to the life of crime or choose differently. He said while they facilitated the programme as lecturers, the learning component was a two-way street. He said they learned a lot from helping turn the inmates’ business ideas into reality. This had widened their outlook so much, as accountants, that they had since published research studies from this programme in the criminology journal – evidence of interdisciplinarity.

He said receiving the awards gave them the platform to inspire others, thus fuelling interest in the Ex-Cell Project. Arendse-Fourie added that not enough people knew of the opportunities, resources and varied ways they could showcase their work.

Looking at how far they have come, Ontong mentioned receiving seed funding from SU’s social impact grant, which has been instrumental in advancing their work.

That, notwithstanding, Ontong mentioned uncomfortable interactions with some senior executives at SU, who insisted on measured programme outcomes. The accounting scholar  said it was impossible to predict how many operating businesses would emerge from the inmates.  That is why Ex-Cell focuses on creating awareness for those in gaol to appreciate life alternatives.

In conclusion, Arendse-Fourie cautioned academics considering these extra-curricular activities that they need to be deeply passionate about their cause to withstand any resistance to transformative initiatives.

The duo credited the success of this programme to the support they received from the leaders who did believe in the idea.

EDHE’s plans for these awards

Led by the EDHE Community of Practice for Entrepreneurship Learning and Teaching, the EDHE Entrepreneurship Learning and Teaching Awards seek to create a grounded, societal experience. Also focused on outcomes of universities’ various innovation and entrepreneurship undertakings, the leading Community of Practice intends to create an anthology of these case studies that will be available to academics, for future learning.

Dr Thea van der Westhuizen (right, above), Academic Leader: Management and Entrepreneurship Discipline at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and Chairperson of EDHE CoP for Learning and Teaching, implored the executives to help disseminate the word about these awards. She facilitated this session alongside her deputy, Professor Tshidi Mohapeloa (left, above), Coordinator: Postgraduate Diploma in Enterprise Management at Rhodes Business School.

“I do not think in South Africa we know enough about the good work that we do within entrepreneurship learning and teaching space…,” said Dr van der Westhuizen. “When we announced the Award last year, we realised there was an overwhelming amount of good work. Many people raised their hands to showcase their work and contribution, not only at their universities but in collaboration with other institutions.”

Abstracts invited

The CoP therefore invites all public universities to submit abstracts about their entrepreneurship projects. The reviewing committee will select top ten submissions and invite more comprehensive case studies of those initiatives. These will then be presented at the annual EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity awards in December, where the top three will be announced.

For her part, Professor Mohapeloa emphasised that these projects need not focus only on students. “Even though this is a learning and teaching award, we acknowledge that entrepreneurship is not only done by academics,” she said. “There are different ways of learning entrepreneurship. So, if you can partner with people you are working with in the entrepreneurship space and document what you are doing, that is what we are looking for.”

In 2022, EDHE received 26 submissions that went through a rigorous selection process. These came from 13 universities.

For more details on these awards and the selection criteria, visit the 2023 EDHE Learning and Teaching Awards. The closing date for new submissions is 14 July.

EDHE ELW 2023 Articles