At the recent Entrepreneurship in Higher Education (EDHE) Lekgotla 2022 in Gqeberha, universities’ student support professionals came onto the stage, one by one, to sign a pledge in support of student entrepreneurs at their institutions.

The practitioners’ planned celebration of women studentpreneurship under the National Association of Student Development Practitioners (NASDEV) at the university of KwaZulu-Natal later this week (from 24 to 27 August), will begin to give effect to this pledge.

The pledge read: “As a leader of Student Affairs and services I pledge to commit the support of my office to student enterpreneurship by doing the following:

  1. Elevating the recognition of student entrepreneurship in my institution
  2. Identifying student entrepreneurs and their businesses
  3. Listening to understand the needs and realities of student entrepreneurs
  4. Supporting the mobilisation of resources for student entrepreneurs in their businesses
  5. Advocating for student entrepreneurs and their businesses
  6. Promoting female student entrepreneurship in an equitable and safe university environment
  7. Facilitating business and learning opportunities for student entrepreneurs
  8. Liaising with other university entities to support student entrepreneurs in specialised matters, such as
  9. prototyping, intellectual property, commercialisation, and procurement
  10. Celebrating and showcasing the successes of student entrepreneurs
  11. Committing towards building a policy framework that is favourable for students.”

Ms Nicole Morris (left), Dean of Student Affairs at Sol Plaatje University (SPU) in Kimberley, had suggested the pledge in her capacity as an executive member of both the South African Association of Senior Student Affairs Professionals (SAASSAP) and NASDEV (National Association of Student Development Practitioners).

The President of SAASSAP, Dr Sibusiso Chalufu, who is Executive Director: Student Life and Transformation at North-West University, and the President of NASDEV, Dr Bernard Sebake, who is Director: Student Governance & Development at Nelson Mandela University, spoke during the pledge ceremony.

So did Chad Lucas, Chairperson of the EDHE Community of Practice (CoP) for Studentpreneurs and a postgraduate entrepreneurship student at SPU. Lucas said he was speaking on behalf of actual and aspiring studentpreneurs across the 26 public universities in South Africa: “We need to be taken as seriously and given the same amount of support that our counterparts on the sports field have. And yes, we’re talking about budget too.

“Thank you for highlighting the importance of supporting us as studentpreneurs. We request that you, as support staff, assist us to grow our entrepreneurship community further, together, because it is only together that we can grow it and move it to market,” he said.

The public pledge has symbolic value

Professor André Keet (left), Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Engagement and Transformation, and the Chair for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation (CriSHET) at Nelson Mandela University, which hosted the Lekgotla, moderated the session devoted to the public pledge.

He said the ceremony had symbolic value. It was a commitment and provided a set of parameters “we will be striving towards” but also formalised the work they had already done. And it was a public expression of support for student entrepreneurs while also “raising awareness of the significant and enabling role of student affairs professionals in supporting student entrepreneurs”.

He said: “The empowering influence of these student affairs professionals is beyond doubt”.

He said there was a case to be made for the development of entrepreneurship to become “one of the key reorientations of the university”. If the higher education sector wanted to engage with real socio-economic and environmental challenges, “then entrepreneurial thinking, the idea of self-reliance, needs to become part of the DNA thought patterns of young people that are coming through the gates of our university,” said Professor Keet.

He found the event to be inspiring and energising and said the EDHE Lekgotla 2022 was “like a practical programmatic expression” of the objectives of his job, that is, of his executive position at the university with its portfolio of engagement and transformation. And it would “in years to come, be known as a gamechanger around the question of student entrepreneurship”.

The pledge is also the start of something new

Dr Sibusiso Chalufu (right) expressed his gratitude to Dr Norah Clarke, Director: EDHE at Universities South Africa (USAf), for this Lekgotla session solely dedicated to “professionals like us who work at the coalface of the sector in shaping and empowering the youth of our country. We really appreciate this. We don’t take it lightly”.

He said this gesture was a significant departure from when student affairs and services practitioners used to be “primarily in the periphery”. There was even a time when they used to be regarded as the ones responsible for ensuring students behaved and did not disrupt the running of universities with protests. Now the role of student support practitioners was “to contribute to the holistic development of students as well-rounded, innovative, and socially responsive local leaders doing all of this (entrepreneurship) in the service of humanity.

He said those in SAASSAP might no longer be student leaders; but they were still agitators “because we strongly believe that there is a need for a serious rethink of the current structural configuration and positioning of student entrepreneurship at our institutions”. And they had already raised it with Dr Clarke and the CEO of USAf, Professor Ahmed Bawa.

“We think the university entrepreneurial ecosystem needs a serious relook. Over the past two days or so, several buzzwords became thematic in the various presentations and in the conversations during this Lekgotla. We need authentic, synergistic, collaborative partnerships in our work and in the support of student entrepreneurship,” he said, repeating the sentence for emphasis.

Several universities participated in the signing of the student affairs/support professionals’ public pledge during the EDHE Lekgotla 2022. They were represented, from left, by Dr Sibusiso Chalufu, Executive Director: Student Life at the North-West University and SASSAP President; Mr Jerome September, Dean of Student Affairs at the University of the Witwatersrand; Dr Matete Madiba, Director: Student Affairs at the University of Pretoria; Dr Mochaki Masipa, Director: Student Affairs at the University of Limpopo; Dr Irene Mohasoa, Executive Director: Student Affairs at Walter Sisulu University; Mr Luthando Jack, Dean of Students at Nelson Mandela University and SASSAP Vice-President; Professor André Keet, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Engagement and Transformation at Nelson Mandela University and Dr Norah Clarke, USAf’s Director: Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education.

Dr Chalufu said a lot needed to change internally within institutions, such as getting rid of the silo mentality and dismantling the cocoons from which many operated. “There are institutions where the left does not talk to the right, and the right doesn’t know what the left is doing,” he said.

He envisaged a setup that extended beyond students, student support professionals, academics and executive management to include community engagement. Together they would provide support “in an integrated and collaborative manner”. While all these role players would be central to the success of this partnership, student support services would anchor and drive student entrepreneurship. “That is what we are agitating for,” he said.

“We are looking forward to a more critical and central role in the support of the work of EDHE in general, and student entrepreneurship at our institutions and beyond, in particular,” he said. They hoped to learn from experiences such as the Economic Activation Office (EAO) at the University of Johannesburg, one of the institutions in this EDHE pilot project.

Dr Chalufu said the pledge ceremony was not only symbolic or historic. “It actually signals a critical commitment and support that we have towards a new and improved approach to student entrepreneurship development in South Africa and the African continent,” he said.

The pledge is making history

Dr Bernard Sebake (right) said he agreed the pledge was historic. It represented an integrated approach towards empowering young people to be agents for social change. It was also a landmark after a long struggle to integrate.

Chosen to be the one to read the pledge to the delegates at the Lekgotla, Dr Sebake said: “I find myself very happy where I am standing. For the first time, after a long struggle, today we’re making a commitment. Prof Keet has put it very eloquently to say “it’s a game changer’,” he said, explaining that the pledge was a gamechanger for students, and for society at large. “It creates a meaningful existence of universities,” he said.

He said NASDEV was meeting at the University of KwaZulu-Natal from 24 to 27 August to celebrate student entrepreneurship and, in particular, women student entrepreneurship with EDHE, USAf and SWEEP (EDHE’s project for Student Women Economic Empowerment). “That’s to demonstrate that our pledge is not cosmetic. It’s a commitment of a new integrated approach,” he said.

“EDHE, you have made it. For the first time we’ve got students here, we’ve got academics, we’ve got practitioners, we are discussing one thing, which is how do we change the landscape of the society for the greater good. I think this is a milestone. And thank you very much for that milestone. We will learn and we’ll commit ourselves to this pledge,” said Dr Sebake.

Gillian Anstey is a contract writer for Universities South Africa

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