2 - 4 November 2020 | Hosted by the University of the Free State

Student Entrepreneurship Week 2020 promises an exciting multi-institutional programme

Student Entrepreneurship Week 2020 (#SEW2020) kicked off with resounding approval from three leading figures in Higher Education who all agreed that entrepreneurship and the creation of a culture of entrepreneurial thinking was crucial for institutions of higher learning.

The fact that 550 students from across the country are expected to be involved in virtual discussions around entrepreneurial programmes and projects impressed CEO of Universities South Africa (USAf) Professor Ahmed Bawa. He noted that this comes on the heels of the successful Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) Lekgotla on High Tech Innovation in Africa, held in September this year, attractingover 1000 participants.

In her introductory remarks, Department of Higher Education and Training Deputy Director General: University Education, Dr Diane Parker, commented on the wide reach that this three-day programme would have, saying it was "fantastic" that 21 universities and three technical and vocational educational and training colleges (TVET) were participating this year. Dr Parker said it was particularly useful to note that the programme would have an even wider reach to even more students and interested parties as all the virtual presentations would be available for long term viewing on a YouTube platform.

Speaking live from Bloemfontein, the Rector and Vice Chancellor of the University of Free State (UFS), Professor Francis Petersen (right), said they were happy to host (and live-stream) the event. He added that he was "looking forward to experiencing what the tertiary education sector has to offer in the advancement of entrepreneurship, especially at this particular time in the history of our country and the world."

Professor Petersen reminded the audience that the economy had been "severely impacted, not only by Covid-19, but from earlier on too."

Professor Francis Petersen

This event, held virtually from locations across South Africa, ran into technical difficulties at the start. While waiting for connectivity with Bloemfontein, studio hosts Sakhumzi Dukwe and Ntsiki Mkhize reflected on areas of difficulty that young entrepreneurs face. Studentpreneurs, Sakhumzi noted, needed access to the market as well as the opportunity to grow products. One field not yet fully explored, he told Ntsiki, is social entrepreneurship. Ntsiki agreed - saying that while all students might not have a business vocation, it did not mean all students could not be entrepreneurs. She cited, as examples, students who are studying engineering or medicine – who are not in the commerce faculty. "Whatever your innovation is can be adapted into an entrepreneurial context," she said.

Ntsiki wondered if there was anything in the water at UFS, laughing as she noted that a number of qualifying UFS doctors had made it into the top 20 of the Miss South Africa competition.

In welcoming Professor Petersen, both hosts applauded institutions universities like UFS who have built an in-house community and provided an ecosystem that helps student entrepreneurs to "get out there". The UFS VC said that the aim of #SEW2020 was to raise the awareness among students, of entrepreneurship as a career, and also as a means to participate in the economy.

He said he was pleased that for the first time, SEW had become a multi-institutional collaborative event bringing academics, students, partners from the private sector and industry, and entrepreneurs (both successful and failed) together to inspire students to become business leaders of tomorrow.

Like Professor Bawa and Dr Parker, Professor Petersen praised the efforts of the co-ordinators of entrepreneurship activities on campuses for playing what he called a fantastic role. He said: "At UFS we believe that a student entrepreneurial value chain approach focusing on sensitisation, graduate attributes, exposure to entrepreneurs, incubation, introduction to proper networks and business development could be a deliberate institutional design to maximise an entrepreneurial culture among our graduates.

"That is our approach to tackling entrepreneurship at the UFS. We also believe that the provision of appropriate skills for the future workplace, as well as a vibrant relationship between institutions in the post school system and business, private sector and industry is essential." The UFS Rector said that to achieve this, universities and the TVETS had to strive towards a more inclusive and flexible curricula that reflect the realities of the private sector, of industry, of commerce and the future world of work.

"As a research-led university, UFS actively engages in entrepreneurial development initiatives – from an undergraduate level to senior researchers who are expected to conduct innovative research that could have a direct impact on job creation, specifically in central South Africa."

He said that during the programme, UFS academics would provide context for their entrepreneurship strategy and showcase the commitment to the enhancement of entrepreneurship at the university. "You will also experience a sense of the variety of programmes and projects currently underway, as well as those that are in different stages of the entrepreneurial cycle," Professor Petersen said. This includes projects and initiatives from current students and also of alumni.

"I'm extremely proud of what we've achieved so far in maximising an entrepreneurial culture among our students. This is evident in the UFS virtual entrepreneurship market that will be presented as part of this week's programme. The market provides a unique way to experience the remarkable talent of our students."

During the course of the programme, especially on Day One, UFS would be portrayed as a university with a strong focus on transforming from a traditional university to one where entrepreneurship is embedded in all aspects of the university's business.

Professor Bawa (right) said Covid-19 had scuppered plans for actually visiting UFS in Bloemfontein for #SEW2020. However, he thanked everyone for the virtual gathering, calling it an innovative initiative that had flowed out of the disruption caused by the coronavirus.

Thanking Dr Diane Parker, her team and the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, he said it had to be understood that this initiative was a partnership between DHET and USAf and all of the 26 universities. "EDHE is a programme that is aimed at building a new generation of young entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial thinkers. Although not every student in our universities is going to be an entrepreneur, it's very important that every student is given the opportunity to engage with thinking about being an entrepreneur."

Professor Ahmed Bawa

Professor Bawa added that it was also necessary to build the capacity of all of students to engage with entrepreneurial thinking, whether he or she is a physicist, a medical graduate or an artist. "It's a wonderful thing to know that EDHE has caught on like wildfire at our universities. It's an indication that there is so much interest in engaging in such activities."

The USAf CEO told a story of his time at the University of Durban Westville (now part of UKZN). In 1990 a visiting Nigerian academic asked to visit the rural areas to get an understanding of what people in rural and peri-urban areas were thinking. Professor Bawa said: "He shared his reflections: he'd seen much greater poverty in other parts of the African continent but was surprised by the utter destruction of the local economy in our rural areas. He had the sense that there was a total destruction of livelihoods.

"The challenge for us is this: to ensure that the spirit of entrepreneurial thinking begins to take hold in all parts of our country." He said, and Dr Parker concurred, that entrepreneurship does not necessarily have to be hi-tech (like discovering the new Facebook).

"We need to look at existing capacities, particularly in rural areas and generating those local capacities. "The challenge for our universities is that they create an ecosystem that allows for this kind of growth in our students and that they, within their own operations, begin to create a culture where and students and staff produce entrepreneurial thinking." Professor Bawa said the big challenge for the university is to drive this culture and to galvanise all the capacity into generating a new higher education system and a new approach to building entrepreneurial thinking.

Dr Diane Parker

Dr Parker (left) believes that this challenge is in the process of being fulfilled. She mentioned the innovative methods being introduced and developed under the leadership of USAf's Dr Norah Clarke, director of the EDHE programme and her team. Dr Parker said: "I refer to all the leaders of the communities of practice across our university systems, people who have made the EDHE programme work across all campuses."

The DDG said 2020 had been a difficult pandemic year. "We've had to secure and save the lives of our students and staff, to ensure the academic year is progressing and ensure that our students have a good chance of succeeding… But, even this success – given the context and the challenges we and the whole globe are facing – comes in what is possibly the worst economic outlook ever, certainly since the Great Depression.

"All of us are going to have to be thinking about different ways of being and thinking." Entrepreneurship, Dr Parker believes, has become even more important as students are entering a workplace that has been seriously compromised. "We are going to be moving into a time when entrepreneurial thinking and innovation is going to become more and more important for survival, and everyone will have to think about how to use these ways of being to engage with their families and communities.

"And, as Ahmed said, not just in terms of hi-tech, but also in terms of how to galvanise communities towards entrepreneurial activities to ensure livelihoods are built and developed." She said this virtual engagement around these issues was important. "Universities and TVET colleges have an important role to play in terms of the development of entrepreneurial eco systems and to work with students and researchers to encourage and develop these kinds of programmes. I'm excited by the process that is unfolding."

The three day #SEW2020 will showcase entrepreneurship projects and programmes being implemented at various public institutions. Look out for a report on the panel discussion on Entrepreneurship for the Common Good that was facilitated by Dr Norah Clarke. Also on yesterday's programme was a riveting overview of the future of entrepreneurship by UFS's Dr Engela van Staden. She narrated why EDHE was set up and also discussed what is on offer within the UFS entrepreneurship programme.

Visit the EDHE website: https://edhe.co.za/

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