University Capacity Development Programme (UCDP)

Student Women to receive dedicated focus in EDHE Phase Two

Levelling the playing field for student women, and graduates, will be a priority for the next three years in Phase Two of the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme at all 26 public universities of South Africa. This was emphasised by two of the opening speakers at the EDHE Phase Two virtual kick-off on Wednesday.

Welcoming participants to the event, Universities South Africa's CEO, Professor Ahmed Bawa, said that women were under-represented despite the fact that they make up the majority of both students and graduates.

Dr Norah Clarke

The EDHE Director, Dr Norah Clarke (left), echoed this sentiment as she announced the start of the Student Women Economic Empowerment Programme (SWEEP), a special programme designed to address the issue. SWEEP, she said, would launch in the second half of this year and be endorsed by an award winning green design building consultant and mechanical engineer, Ms Vere Shaba – who is the CEO of Green Design Africa.

Professor Bawa kicked off the three-day event by saying that Phase One of the EDHE programme – founded in 2017 – had been very successful. He said the aims of building entrepreneurial thinking at universities, of creating academic systems for both students and staff and for creating an ecosystem for entrepreneurship growth had been achieved. "This continues to Phase Two, the challenge being to strengthen the capacity of universities as we shift responsibility from EDHE to them," Professor Bawa said.

However, both he and Dr Clarke were at pains to state that there would be continued EDHE support for all universities.

Phase Two is being launched on the theme Entrepreneurship #AgainstAllOdds, which recognises the continuing challenges of CoVID-19; the added uncertainties of 2021 and the toll that those could have on studentpreneurs.

University funding under spotlight

Both Professor Bawa and Department of Higher Education and Training's Acting Deputy Director-General: University Education, Dr Thandi Lewin (right), raised the issue of funding, citing the financial pressures facing universities. As Professor Bawa referred to funding as the "key point of uncertainty at the moment," Dr Lewin, in her keynote address titled Hope Through Entrepreneurship in Uncertain Times, called it the "elephant in the room".

She said: "The big question is: how do we ensure that everyone who deserves a higher education receives one without compromising the stability and the sustainability of the universities?" She blamed a combination of a difficult fiscal situation, the effects of Covid-19, long term gaps between the funding required for a strong education system and the rapid growth of the system often referred to as "underfunding". "We all agree that something more, or different, has to be done."

Dr Thandi Lewin

There had been reductions in subsidies in 2020, Dr Lewin stated -- as just one example of funding re-directed from the Higher Education budget. "We have an opportunity to think differently about funding. We need to be innovative and entrepreneurial in finding solutions." Dr Lewin added that Cabinet had directed the department to do a review of the current policy of student funding and to come back with an analysis of what is required and what can be done both in the short and the longer term. She said they were working tirelessly to come up with this review.

Despite this gloomy funding context, EDHE's Dr Clarke said she was very grateful that DHET had shown its commitment to EDHE. "Not only is our EDHE funding intact, but DHET has increased it so that we can do more," she said.

Some of the future work, Professor Bawa said, would include encouraging geographic regions to become more entrepreneurial. "We are trying to understand how universities engage society so they are not just centres of knowledge production and research." Engagement with the communities and environments that universities operate in is crucial, the USAf CEO said.

On the need to adapt, Dr Lewin said that Covid-19 had completely changed the way of work while bringing in "a lot of resilience and new ideas. I cannot see myself going back to an office. Everything is now being done online. We're more productive. Work-life changes include no genuine human contact. I stay in touch with my colleagues through Zoom or Teams – my computer is part of my body," she said.

The paradox is that universities are labelled as slow to change, but are expected to equip students for the new world, Dr Lewin said, adding that this past year had seen universities making swift and major adjustments as they adapted to meet changing needs.

Story of EDHE

Dr Clarke, together with Project Manager, Ms Zana Boshoff and Student Engagement Officer, Mr Linda Dhladhla, outlined important events lined up in 2021.

Narrating the history of EDHE, Dr Clarke said the programme idea was hatched in 2013, after a Human Resource Development Council report recommended the introduction of such an entity. But it was in March 2017 that the EDHE programme kicked off with the first Lekgotla (there have since been four). Student Entrepreneurship Week followed and was held at a few universities, with more joining the following year.

In July 2018, EDHE came home to USAf under the leadership of Professor Ahmed Bawa. We were given office space; engaged a dedicated team and received funding from DHET." Dr Clarke described the EDHE mandate: "Imagine a country where every student is equipped to participate in the economy not through formal employment but through entrepreneurial activity.

Refilwe Mogale
Female students preparing to mix concrete at Refilwe Mogale's construction company. Mogale is a PhD candidate at the University of the Free State (UFS).

"Imagine a university that encourages an entrepreneurial spirit among both students and staff. Imagine a place where academics work closely with industry and business, introducing entrepreneurial students to business and enterprise while they master the principles in the classroom. "That is the EDHE dream, that is our mandate," Dr Clarke said.

The first four years saw a shift from a fragmented university eco system to 26 connected public institutions increasingly positioning themselves as entrepreneurial universities. And so the universities have seen the rise of the studentpreneur, where the side hustle has been done in conjunction with studying.

Female students preparing to mix concrete at Refilwe Mogale's construction company. Mogale is a PhD candidate at the University of the Free State (UFS).
Photo: Courtesy of the University of the Free State

Phase Two aspirations

Dr Clarke said that Phase Two hopes to see every student and graduate equipped to participate in the economy. EDHE also wants teaching, research innovation, entrepreneurship and the commercialisation pipeline to be supported within the university. She said: "We long to see post graduate research that makes a difference in our country; that is accessible and that feeds into the economy." By the end of this Phase the EDHE programme aspires to see visible outcomes, where every student (especially every student woman) will be solidly equipped to participate in economic activity.

Also key during this phase is the support of academics across disciplines to develop entrepreneurship through teaching and learning and research. Finally, as initially said by Professor Bawa and repeated by Dr Clarke, EDHE wants to support universities as entrepreneurial and innovative ecosystems that also get to influence relevant policy development. Dr Clarke drew a map with the higher education sector on one side, and the world of work on the other. "EDHE is building a bridge between those two worlds," she said.

During this phase, universities will see the introduction of the following new Communities of Practice:

  • CoP for entrepreneurial research
  • CoP for Entrepreneurship teaching and learning and
  • CoP for SWEEP and the
  • CoP for entrepreneurial alumni.

Said Dr Clarke: "It's hard and cold out there. We want to bring together our alumni to look at solutions and ways to address the concerns of struggling or unemployed graduates." The programme will be working with universities to set up Economic Activation Offices, phased in over three years. "We are hoping that there will be one known place where anyone can go – students, community members, academic staff – for way-finding and to find out what is happening in the institution. It is here that they will be able to learn how to access support and explore available opportunities."

Singling out the University of Venda as a shining example, Dr Clarke said EDHE would like to see some CoP replicated. "We are looking for university representatives to make contact with us. Talk to us. Make a difference," she said.

What's on The EDHE 2021 Calendar ?

Zana Boshoff announced EDHE's 2021 flagship programme – the EDHE Lekogtla to be held between 2-6 August. "It will be co-hosted with the University of Pretoria and will be a hybrid event. We are hoping that some members of Communities of Practice will join us in person, but the event will also be hosted virtually," she said. That will be followed up by the third Student Entrepreneurship Intervarsity programme, and after that, the EDHE Intervarsity Finals.

Boshoff invited students and interested parties to log into the EDHE website ( ) to view all projects and updates for 2021 (including for executive leadership workshops, research projects and entrepreneurship research). Dhladhla announced that the Student Entrepreneurship Week will be held in August or

September this year. "This is the week in which universities give exposure to the work of the students, be they barber shops or tech startups, driving schools or designers...

"The Studentpreneur Indaba will be held on August 2 - to help guide students on all aspects of how to contribute to the economy."

New directory of student projects hailed as game changing

Dhladhla said that the introduction of a Studentpreneur Community of Practice would see each university appointing one student to inform EDHE of student projects. "The most exciting thing is going to be the 2021 project that brings out a Directory of Student Businesses. This will be a directory of all student projects across all 26 universities.

"Once the name of the student and his or her project have been published on this platform, users can either buy from the student or they can offer to mentor them."

Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.