10 universities launch centres to boost entrepreneurship

In a bid to tackle graduate unemployment and contribute towards developing a knowledge-based economy, 10 universities in Libya have launched entrepreneurship and innovation centres (EICs) to produce entrepreneurs equipped to run their own businesses.

The 10 institutions are: the University of Tripoli, the University of Benghazi, Zawiyah University, Jofra Engineering Faculty, Sebha University, Sirte University, Ajdabiya University, Misurata University, Omar Al-Mukhtar University and Al Gabal Al Gharbi University.

The launch of the centres took place in Tunisia at a meeting of presidents of the participating Libyan universities and directors of university start-up labs, as well as European Union officials and member state representatives.

“The EICs are good news, not only for Libya but also for the North Africa region, which has been late in joining the ‘entrepreneurial and innovation’ movement in higher education,” science and technology expert Hilmi Salem told University World News.

At present only 37 universities – fewer than 5% of the universities in the Middle East and North Africa region – offer entrepreneurial courses. Just 17 have centres for entrepreneurship and a mere five offer a major in entrepreneurship, according to a 2011 report entitled Accelerating Entrepreneurship in the Arab World.

To enhance their impact, Salem said Libya’s EICs must join forces with institutions that foster a knowledge economy by incubating the ideas of home-grown entrepreneurs to form a national network. These include Tatweer Research which recently created the Tatweer Entrepreneurship Campus, a programme designed to increase opportunities for entrepreneurial talent in Libya in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme, Libya and the European Union.

“Libya’s national network should cooperate with North Africa’s EICs to form a regional hub to promote entrepreneurship and innovation within the universities located in the region,” Salem said.

The EICs initiative is a step towards implementation of the Libya 2020 Vision project, which includes using higher education, science, technology and innovation to build a knowledge-based economy that is more productive and competitive.

The EICs aim to help nurture an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset for self-employment in students.

Unemployment among young Libyan people is particularly worrying. In 2015 it was estimated to be as high as 48.7%, according to an August 2015 European Training Foundation report The Challenge of Youth Employability in Arab Mediterranean Countries: The role of active labour market programmes.

Besides developing educational, training, mentoring and research programmes to impact on the ecosystem at all stages of the entrepreneurial process, the EICs will provide students with the tools, experience, knowledge and skills necessary to creatively pursue new opportunities and innovations in the start-up, social, and corporate venture arenas.

It is hoped that the EICs will host symposia and workshops on marketing, product development, business plans, patents and financial management.

The EICs initiative is part of the €7.6 million (US$9.3 million) Support to Libya for Economic Integration, Diversification and Sustainable Employment (SLEIDSE) four-year project funded by the European Union and implemented by Expertise France.

The SLEIDSE project supports the development of micro, small and medium enterprises in Libya to provide Libyan youth with livelihood and employment opportunities.

The EICs are expected to have an impact beyond universities. According to Emhamad Elmansori, a researcher at Omar Al-Mukhtar University in Libya and author of a report on The Concept of Innovation in Libya, the EICs will play “a vital role in promoting a culture of innovation within and outside the university that results in research and technology commercialisation”.

In his report Elmansori argued that there is an apparent lack of innovation in Libya in spite of a growing interest in the topic and its potential contribution to the economy and education.
He told University World News the EICs will also enhance linkages among the government, university and industry and promote socio-economic development.