Mortimer Harvey
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South Africa's higher education institutions band together to forge entrepreneurship agenda

South Africa's universities launched the Forum for Entrepreneurship Development Centres (FEDCI) last week on Mandela Day to develop the country's Universities as entrepreneurship and innovation centres - a significant initiative to reduce poverty through stimulating South Africa's Universities as hotbeds of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Almost all of South Africa's public Universities were in attendance, as well as a number of private higher education institutions which includes the Maharashi Institute, Mortimer Harvey's BBBEE partner.

As entrepreneurship gains currency in political and economic circles because of its potential to deliver sustainable economic and social benefits, South Africa's higher education institutions embrace and advance this agenda as a key activity for job creation in the country.

The FEDCI is established with support from the Department of Higher Education and the Human Resources Development Council (in the office of the deputy president) and the Department of Trade and Industry (the DTI) alongside the private sector. The symbolic Hand Holding for Madiba represented for academic institutions the opportunity to 'hold hands' to advance the alleviation of poverty and economic growth for social justice, both causes close to Madiba's heart. The partners have been working over a year to bring this body and activities into fruition.

As South Africa struggles with high levels of unemployment, in particular youth unemployment, low levels of economic growth and low levels of total early stage entrepreneurial activity (known as TEA index) tracked globally and reported in Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM, 2012). Institutions of higher learning today acknowledged the key role that Universities have in the country in catalysing entrepreneurship. Universities can serve as engines for entrepreneurship development as they are ideally located to unlock the creativity and innovation of nations that deal with the challenges of the 21st century. "What is required is the development of a strong and rich entrepreneurial ecosystem at universities", said Professor Shahida Cassim, newly elected Deputy CEO of FEDCI and one of the founders.

Evidence suggests that entrepreneurship education can have a positive impact on entrepreneurship rates and economic growth. Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) data for South Africa suggests that there is room for improvement in entrepreneurship education and activity (education is defined as an essential framework condition in the GEM model), and as a result is part of the reason that South Africa's TEA rankings are well below half of all other African country peers in the annual review. This is clearly a major concern for the development of economic activity in the country, and developing a coordinated higher education system to address the needs of different entrepreneur types, age groups and different contexts are a key imperative stated today by the University sector.

FEDCI has been formulated with the express purpose of serving as a platform for collaboration and for strategising on entrepreneurship issues in institutions of higher education. It will serve as a forum or network of committed 'champions' of entrepreneurship at every University nation-wide delivering to them a platform to share initiatives and define best practice in teaching, research and community development activities. Dr Thami Mazwai was appointed as the first CEO of FEDCI.

Speaking at the launch, Dr Taddy Blecher, chair of the HRDC Enabling Entrepreneurship Technical Task Team, said that the launch of FEDCI was a significant milestone in the promotion of entrepreneurship, and in the development and support of job creators as opposed to job seekers. He said that higher education institutions have the potential to significantly impact the employment levels in the country as well as the success rate of small businesses, but that they need to work together, something that the launch of FEDCI will make more achievable.

Professor Shahida Cassim then presented the results of a short survey of entrepreneurship activities from 17 Public Universities and four Private institutions, demonstrating that there was indeed a number of activities that champions were initiating at their institutions despite the somewhat "unfavourable institutional climate" they found themselves in.

Dr Engela Van Staden (Chief director: University Academic Planning and Management Support in the Department of Higher Education and Training) then challenged those present to come up with creative solutions to some of the obstacles that are experienced by entrepreneurship centres at the institutions. She also encouraged those present to "think big" about what initiatives, activities and research should be driven to build a culture of entrepreneurship at higher education institutions.

Director of Enterprise Development in the dti, Mzi Memani, celebrated the good news of this joint collaboration which is directly in line with the dti's programmes for entrepreneurial development and the support of the small business sector across South Africa.

In closing, Dr Taddy Blecher, expressed his excitement about the FEDCI initiative. He stated that now "no one University is alone in this national mission" in pushing the agenda of entrepreneurship at higher education institutions. He implored all of the academics present to share their knowledge freely and have a bias for action despite the challenges.

30 Jul 2013 09:29

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Comment
Thembani Mnconywa
Thembani Mnconywa
It is the best idea that South African business schools venture into the field of entrepreneurship, so that they are able to assist the young people to open their small businesses and contribute immersely to the economic development of this country. There is a negative perception that universities produce theoretical players who become misfit in the real working world, as a result companies take them through to another six months to one year practical programme. Therefore universities are under pressure to streamline their curriculum to adddress the real needs of the industry rather than generalise. innovations are founded in the industries, like 'please call me' of which these are supposed to come through learning institutions and introduce them to market. Entrepreneurship encourages critical thinking, implementing innovative ideas, and helps entrepreneurs to plan. It can address unemployment, poverty and reduces dependency on the state
Posted on 7 Aug 2013 08:23
Mortimer Harvey