University entrepreneurship: Key to surviving uncertainty

Dwindling government funding and graduate unemployment are just two of the factors contributing to the need for African universities to embrace entrepreneurship in teaching, research, and in the way in which institutions are run, according to an African expert.

“Universities should be run as universities but this needs to be spiced with entrepreneurship so they are able to survive in an uncertain environment,” Rosemond Boohene, associate professor of Enterprise Development at the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Small Enterprise Development at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana, told University World News.

Speaking during a webinar on promoting entrepreneurship in African universities organised by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa through its Working Group on Higher Education and hosted by the Association of African Universities on 18 August, Boohene said in order to emphasise entrepreneurship, a change in mindset was needed.

University-wide entrepreneurship

She said universities tended to think that entrepreneurship education is only applicable to those students reading business programmes, but this was not the case. The need for an entrepreneurial outlook applied to all academic disciplines offered at a university, as well as the administration, research and outreach activities conducted within the university environment.

She noted that entrepreneurship education could be built into the strategic plans of various institutions and implemented as action plans.

Support from top management and stakeholders was critical to the success of such an approach, she said.

“It’s not too hard to promote entrepreneurship education in our universities if one gets the support of top management and also educates stakeholders on the importance of entrepreneurship education to the institution's survival,” she said.

In addition to content, an entrepreneurial approach would also influence mode of delivery, she said. As much as the teaching skills of academics must improve, the infrastructure would also need to be upgraded. Exposing students to the actual practice of entrepreneurship was also necessary.

Starting in kindergarten

Boohene said entrepreneurship education should start at lower levels of education, including kindergarten, so that by the time students get to university they would have developed an entrepreneurial mindset that would prepare them to start their own business or help their organisations or companies grow.

Such a move called for the involvement of ministries of education and governments.

In Ghana, she said, entrepreneurship education had not yet been introduced at the lower levels (kindergarten, nursery and primary schools) of education.

At the University of Cape Coast, there were two groups of students: those taking the university-wide entrepreneurship course; and those who study the subject as part of their departmental degree programmes.

At the business school, where entrepreneurship forms part of the degree programme, the experiential learning model is applied. Students are taught the theory and then allowed to run a business for a month.

Developing business plans

They then return to deliver a presentation on their business ideas and all these activities are included in the writing of a business plan. According to Boohene, these practical activities are conducted in groups so that students also learn how to work in teams.

Boohene said captains of industry are called on to help with mentoring and coaching of students.

“There is need to build linkages with the ecosystem in the community in which we operate,” she said.

Those taking entrepreneurship as part of the university-wide entrepreneurship course also go through the rudiments of the entrepreneurial process and end with the preparation of a business plan.

In addition to developing an entrepreneurial mindset, Boohene said entrepreneurship training imparted other benefits to students such as understanding how to start a business when conditions allow, preparation for the world of work, and the promotion of academic entrepreneurship.

Role models

While securing funding was always a problem for entrepreneurs, she said if students wanted to build incubators they should find multiple sources of funding.

At the University of Cape Coast, students were encouraged to join a credit savings union as part of their training upon entering the university.

She said if African universities are to produce home-grown entrepreneurs they would do well to follow some of the models being employed by institutions such as Ashesi University in Ghana and Makerere University in Uganda where staff and students are taught and motivated to develop an entrepreneurial mindset in every sphere of the university’s activities and training.