HomeThe Future of WorkInitiatives in Higher Education to drive the development of Entrepreneurship among South African graduates

Initiatives in Higher Education to drive the development of Entrepreneurship among South African graduates

by Camilla Pennington

A recent article featured on IOL quotes Professor Deresh Ramjugernath, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research at the University of KwaZulu-Natal as saying, “If we really want to see the significant economic growth and job creation that we are seeing in developing countries, we must have real innovation in medium and hi-tech entrepreneurship”.  Our most recent Candidate Insights survey further reveals that when asked to identify aspirational employers of choice the fourth most preferred option among recent graduates is “self-employment”.  These insights led us to asking what, if any, initiatives are in place in Higher Education to drive the development of entrepreneurship among young talent?  We were delighted to discover that the Department of Higher Education and Training have already identified this need with some exciting developments on the cards.  We chatted to Dr Norah Clarke, Project Manager: Entrepreneurship Development, Department of Higher Education and Training.

Norah explained that Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) started as a small project in October 2016 with the goal to develop an entrepreneurship ecosystem at HEI’s and to promote the development of entrepreneurship among students – this project has since been mandated at the highest levels in the Department with a committed fund allocation.  The two major concerns being addressed by this project are as follows:

  1. Graduate unemployment currently sits at between 5-7% which, although much lower than the overall unemployment rate of 27.7%, is still cause for concern. Growing entrepreneurs is not a cure for unemployment – rather, the development of an entrepreneurial mindset among young talent may be a way of facilitating increased contributions to innovation and economic growth.
  2. Universities are already under significant financial pressure and without a dedicated and resourced project to address the EDHE goals, little might change.

The EDHE project will focus on three main channels in Higher Education, as follows:

  • Developing student entrepreneurship
  • Developing entrepreneurship in academia
  • Developing entrepreneurial universities

Of course, there are already university courses and curricula that introduce the concept of entrepreneurship, but these tend to be concentrated around business and management courses and are not necessarily found in other curricula. The goal is to encourage a different mindset among young talent that encourages them to consider what they might be able to do that is of an entrepreneurial nature, a can-do attitude.

Work is already being done to identify examples of good practice when it comes to teaching and practicing entrepreneurship – both locally and internationally – and to then develop a set of best practice teaching and learning that is suited to our unique South African context.  Norah’s project also recognises that there will be no “one-size fits all” solution to suit all curricula across all 26 of our HEI’s.  The ideal solution will be to provide a toolkit of information, support and options which can then be customised to suit different scenarios.

Norah’s ultimate vision is to see students across the board equipped with an entrepreneurial mindset and skillset.

Nature versus Nurture

I challenged Norah on her views as far as the nature versus nurture debate on entrepreneurship is concerned – do entrepreneurs possess certain traits, attitudes, behaviours and beliefs or can we teach entrepreneurial skills?  She responded by saying that, “research and numbers show that some people do have a “knack” for business, and wheeling and dealing is in their DNA.  However, entrepreneurial skills, thinking and attitudes can be taught, shared and encouraged”.   And, as stated at the beginning of the article, there are different levels of entrepreneurship – one person may start a small laundry at home doing washing for a few other families – another may start a laundry franchise.  At least the chances of success will be improved if the start-up individual understands what it takes to run a business.

What an entrepreneurship curriculum might look like

An interesting example of a dedicated entrepreneurship programme is currently offered at UCT, a one-year Post-Graduate diploma in Entrepreneurship. Students are required to start a business at the beginning of the programme and they then learn theory and practice along the way.  The course culminates in an exhibition from which there have been numerous successful start-ups.  In other cases, entrepreneurship is introduced on a smaller scale to students across disciplines.

Student entrepreneurship is already developed outside formal academic structures through organisations such as BeBold and Enactus. ENACTUS is a global NGO that has developed a network dedicated to creating a better, more sustainable world by developing a generation of entrepreneurial leaders and social innovators. Globally they work with 7 200 students across 1 730 campuses (including many of our Universities) and their projects have already impacted 1.3 million lives. Increased exposure to these kinds of initiatives is encouraged through the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education programme.

Other forms of support currently available are through the Department of Small Business Development’s platforms, such as SEDA (Small Enterprise Development Agency) and SEFA, the Small Enterprise Finance Agency.

The role of the Private Sector

Norah’s message for corporate South Africa is, “get involved, be part of the movement, share experience”.  There are several ways in which the private sector can contribute towards the EDHE vision:

  • As a successful business person, individuals can make themselves available as mentors to young entrepreneurs
  • Get involved in the classroom and share business success stories
  • Foster collaborative relationships between Universities and small to medium-sized local businesses
  • Buy into the development part of this project – invest in and support the development of students who are interested in entrepreneurial pursuits


 Upcoming Events

  • The 2nd annual Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) Lekgotla is scheduled to take place from 27 to 29 June 2018. This event is aimed at the sharing of best practice to advance entrepreneurship development in higher education on an institutional and national level. In addition, delegates will have the opportunity to engage with experts in the field and foster collaborative relationships across disciplines and institutions for the benefit of our students and economy.
  • Student Entrepreneurship Week (SEW2018) is scheduled to take place in August 2018 – across all HEIs. Last year 19 out of 26 Institutions participated in this initiative and this year full participation is anticipated.

To find out more about these events, or the EDHE Programme please email Norah at clarke.n@dhet.gov.za.

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Camilla juggles her time between her two daughters who are aged 11 and 13, working on SAGEA projects and assisting with the running of her husband’s website, South Africa The Good News.  She enjoys walks among the green hills of the Midlands and spins regularly to keep fit.


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