As African universities seek to improve graduate employability, job creation and knowledge transfer for sustainable development, they need to demonstrate entrepreneurship in teaching, increase entrepreneurial orientation in study programs and supporting start-ups – as well as innovative initiatives to promote cooperation with companies.
This is what emerges from interviews with stakeholders during a workshop on May 19 entitled “From employability to job creation. How to Create Effective University-Business Ecosystems in Africa”. It was part of the UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education (WHEC2022) on the theme “Reinventing Higher Education for a Sustainable Future”.
Status and importance
Professor Patrick Shamba Bakengela, director of the German Congolese Microfinance Center at the Protestant University of the Democratic Republic of Congo, said Word University News that there is limited cooperation between universities in Africa and the business sector.
“Sometimes companies are invited to participate in conferences, but that’s not enough,” Bakengela added.
Better cooperation, he said, “will help improve the situation in Africa by improving the employability of graduates and job creation”.
Mark Vlek de Coningh, Team Leader for Partnerships and Programs at the Netherlands Universities Foundation for International Cooperation, or NUFFIC, the Netherlands Organization for the Internationalization of Education, and Christoph Hansert, Head of Cooperation at development and transnational programs at the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), in a message to Academia News said university-business cooperation fosters opportunities and creates livelihoods for young Africans.
“African universities should not be isolated from the needs of African society… [they] have an important role to play in supporting the development of countries and communities,” said De Coningh and Hansert.
Going further, consultant Alvira Fisher, former director of the University of Stellenbosch LaunchLab in South Africa, which operates as a business accelerator and stimulates entrepreneurship on campus, said Academia News“Collaboration between African universities and the business sector offers a great opportunity to make a difference.
“Compared to other thriving entrepreneurial economies, it appears that Africa still has significant progress to make in achieving an effective ecosystem between higher education institutions and the private sector.
“University-business cooperation can be a game-changer as graduates hold a unique combination of theory and next-generation reality as they leave academia and the business sector, [in turn]has the know-how and skills to harness these new and young skills to find innovative ways to bring about improved change in the industry,” said Fisher.
Bakengela said that the main challenge facing university-business cooperation in Africa is a misunderstanding of the areas of cooperation in a win-win situation because sometimes universities are perceived as producing theoretical knowledge, while businesses are perceived as focusing on practicality and ignoring theoretical aspects.
“In Africa, we need to improve our understanding between theory and practice…good theory is the understanding of [the] causality of things – it’s practical, not theoretical,” Bakengela explained.
“The curriculum is sometimes not adapted to the challenges encountered in the field [within the business sector] in Africa,” he added.
Fisher added that “finding time to communicate and create a fluent dialogue is another challenge facing university-business cooperation in Africa.”
“You get little information when information is implicit,” Fisher pointed out.
To be ready for business, Fisher said, African university graduates needed a lot of support when completing the academic process, as there are often skills gaps in the workplace, market and consumers that will form the basis of the next steps a graduate must take.
“Supporting entrepreneurship and job creation provides the private sector with the necessary workforce while helping to jump-start the career of the future professional in a meaningful way, allowing them to flourish with confidence rather than take the time to learn from chess,” Fisher added.
An integrated approach
De Coningh and Hansert also highlighted the need to look at learning pathways more holistically.
“An integrated approach, which also involves business, venture capital and mentoring by businesswomen and men, both nationally and internationally, is necessary.
“A good example could be integrating quality fully accredited internships into university curricula to link business fundamentals with education fundamentals.
“The establishment of business incubators and industry-university relations promotion units at all levels will also support the exchange of knowledge between different parties,” they said.
An interesting example could be the Higher Education Institutions and Business Partners in Germany and Developing Countries program organized by the DAAD and funded by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to De Coningh and Hansert.
The program aims to promote the transfer of knowledge between higher education institutions and industry in order to contribute to the interconnection of higher education institutions and industry and to broaden the dialogue.
It includes several African countries, namely Egypt, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal and Tunisia.
Towards effective university-business ecosystems
To address the challenges facing university-business cooperation in Africa, Bakengela said new solutions are needed to help the poor gain access to the economy through cooperation between African universities and national, regional and international businesses. .
“We should encourage formal university-business cooperation, primarily to create disruptive innovation that enables excluded people to access new products and markets,” Bakengela said.
He also suggested that African universities need to be entrepreneurial in teaching and give students the opportunity to experiment with ideas in the marketplace and, if possible, sell their ideas to companies.
Fisher added that “sponsored engagement linking stakeholders must be established, shared agendas and strategies across sectors must be formulated, and new initiatives put in place to create training grounds for new innovations within the academic sector in order to find a way to test theory in business reality” [was necessary].
“Other approaches include setting up online tools designed for collaboration and creating connections between geographies, as well as organizing programs that not only bring stakeholders together, but also create a point of strategic connection to collaboratively solve industry problems,” Fisher suggested.
To build effective university-business ecosystems, Fisher said, “African universities also need to increase the entrepreneurial orientation in the curriculum and support start-ups by introducing them early in the practical entrepreneurial steps to undertake, because entrepreneurship is more than just a brilliant idea and what we see online on social media”.
“Working to create value takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work if it can be added to academic learning. We could have a head start with our program graduates on the continent,” Fisher pointed out.
“University-business ecosystems exist in Africa but as entrepreneurship practitioners we need to ask ourselves if they are accessible enough and if entrepreneurial ideation receives enough social capital to survive the journey,” he said. she concluded.