North Africa lags in ‘entrepreneurial’ universities

The Arab world, and especially North Africa, has been late in joining the ‘entrepreneurial’ movement in higher education, which strives to enhance youth and graduate employment and provide young people with the knowledge and skills to start their own businesses. This is the conclusion of a recent report on Reforming the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem in Post-Revolutionary Egypt and Tunisia.

The study, published in April by Stanford University in the United States, revealed that most North African countries have underdeveloped entrepreneurship education programmes, with few public or private higher education institutions offering training needed for business creation.

“While in the developed, newly industrialising and emerging countries, more and more universities are becoming entrepreneurial, in Arab countries this movement is very slow,” said a 2011 paper on Arab Countries Can Peform Better with Clear Emphasis on Innovation, Entrepreneurship and an Evolving Culture.

“Apart from Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, in other Arab countries entrepreneurship education is severely lacking, at a very early stage or not engaging the available potentialities."

“In the education field, extremely few private universities or institutes provide teaching and training that matches the demand for new business skills, knowledge and inspiration,” said the paper. “On the other hand, the great majority of public institutions do not update their curricula to match international emphasis on entrepreneurship education."

One reason could be because universities are not integrated into the world of industry. Also, interest in and practices of business are a matter of personal resourcefulness, “which depends on an individual’s traits or characteristics and background”.

Best practice in North Africa

With reference to North Africa, Abdelkader Djeflat, an Algerian higher education expert based at the University of Lille in France, told University World News: “Various universities have launched entrepreneurial studies in the last two decades.

“Some went as far as opening departments in entrepreneurship as well as startup support services in charge of incubating young graduates’ projects.

“This meant that two levels of actions were needed: the first one at the grassroots level, which gives intensive entrepreneurship courses to students, and the second is extensive support for enterprise creation.”

The University of Sfax in Tunisia was a role model on a regional level. It had introduced an entrepreneurship programme in the syllabus, created a centre for entrepreneurship promotion and launched about 100 enterprises.

“The body in charge of this training, the CUEIS – Centre universitaire d’insertion et d’essaimage – gives coaching, monitoring and access to funding through a dense network of banks, and also access to a body of consultants,” said Djeflat.

The number of graduates in entrepreneurship grew from 124 in 2004 to 1,584 in 2010, and 39% of them have started enterprises. Sixty percent of those who launched enterprises in 2009 are still in business. A survey of graduates indicated that the proportion of students to start an enterprise after graduation increased from 4% in 2004 to 30% in 2010.

Benefits of entrepreneurship education

Djeflat pointed out that graduate unemployment was as high as 40% in countries of the Maghreb in North Africa, although it did not exceed 25% for non-graduates.

Public administration, which used to be the single most important job provider, was not capable of employing as many graduates anymore – and certainly not the increasing number of graduates – while companies had relatively low absorption because of an insufficient rate of growth and dominant family business culture.

“Self-employment through business creation becomes the only way to face up to these challenges,” said Djeflat.

“Moreover, there is a big gap between formal education and training and the needs of enterprises: it is essential, therefore, to develop a new paradigm for entrepreneurship education that is grounded in the economic and social context of the entrepreneurs.”

Djeflat said entrepreneurship education provided people with knowledge and competencies that empowered them to face socio-economic challenges and change throughout their lives. It was expected to “help people to engage in decent income-generating activities that can lead them out of poverty and towards sustainable livelihoods”.

Entrepreneurship education and training could contribute to turning demographic transition to an opportunity for Africa to compete internationally, Djeflat argued.

“It also increases individuals’ ability to anticipate, to develop and take initiatives, to become more responsible and deal with risks successfully. It helps establish a culture of entrepreneurship – for example initiative, innovation, creativity, problem-solving and citizenship – in a supportive learning environment.”

Some preconditions

Manar Sabry, an Egyptian higher education expert at the State University of New York, told University World News: “It is important to understand that entrepreneurship cannot be taught in one or two courses, but we can teach a set of skills that would eventually develop entrepreneurship.

“Also we must develop a culture of entrepreneurship in the country or region because the external environment plays an important role in the success of any initiative.”

Universities should take into consideration local industries and communities, and develop programmes that relate to their needs, said Sabry. New entrepreneurship courses should also be considered in terms of how they fit with a university’s mission and vision.

“Universities need to be more responsive and adapt to market needs, and any programme should take this into consideration. This is particularly important because inadequate training and mismatch between graduates and job markets are the main reason for high unemployment.”

Djeflat said there was a need for recognition of the importance of entrepreneurial universities at top decision-making levels of countries and higher education ministries in particular. Also, universities needed to realise the importance of and provide support and resources to entrepreneurial training and activities.

Asked about what was needed to set up ‘entrepreneurial’ universities, Djeflat indicated that some of the needs are the following:
  • • Coordinate entrepreneurial education with external bodies and agencies devoted to enterprise creation and support.
  • • Coordinate internally among faculties, as enterprise creation is a multidisciplinary exercise.
  • • Create a network of entrepreneurial education units and universities for the exchange of experience and resources, both human and material. Also form a network of entrepreneurial education graduates who have successfully created enterprises, and current students – this is of utmost importance.
  • • Introduce entrepreneurship at all levels of education, from primary to postgraduate. Develop social enablers such as trust building, communications and negotiation skills for the success of entrepreneurs.
  • • Employ effective entrepreneurship delivery and assessment methods and develop effective entrepreneurship educators.
  • • Integrate entrepreneurship into curricula design and delivery and establish business incubators.