Thursday 23 February 2023

The British Council presented the results of its pilot programme, Innovation for African Universities (IAU) at a panel session that formed part of the 2023 AIEA Annual Conference for Leaders of International Education in Washington DC on the 21st of February 2023. 

The panel session tagged; "The Role of Internationalization in Strengthening University Entrepreneurship Ecosystems" was well attended by leaders of internationalization functions across several continents.

Speaking on the panel was Adetomi Soyinka, Regional Director, Higher Education Programmes Sub Saharan Africa, British Council who set the scene for members of the audience by providing the context that led to the creation of the programme. According to Tomi, "many young graduates end up unemployed or employed and underpaid, which has led to what she described as a 'side hustle' culture, an interesting development that became too fundamental to ignore especially during the Covid 19 pandemic that closed schools for long periods". The side-hustle culture needed a formal "container", a way to hone-in talent and provide tools to help young bright minds find pride and enterprise developing their passion.

IAU provided the platform to build entrepreneurial solutions designed to suit each country's individual peculiarities, making it practical and useful. The most interesting point is that the collaboration formed between the universities and students started digitally and it has worked. The turnout and participation have been applauded amongst many circles. The pilot countries were South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya. She stressed the need for scale and sustainability to fully embed the gains of the IAU programme across the continent. She called out for investment and technology partners to help drive the programme further.

Thea van der Westhuizen who is the Academic Leader for Management and Entrepreneurship discipline, School of Management, IT and Governance, University of KwaZulu-Natal, in her presentation titled "Stop Teaching Start Inspiring" outlined the core of the enterprise education curriculum across the board, which is based on the fundamentals of co-inspiration.

In his presentation, Dr Sunday Ekpo, Senior Lecturer in Electrical & Electronic Engineering, Manchester Metropolitan University, placed the spotlight on the Pareto study he conducted to analyse the relationship between the university ecosystem and industry (Barriers to Industry-University Collaboration). He presented the outcome of the study to analyse and create solutions to bring down the barriers. He identified the issues of intellectual property (IP) and time as the main constraints to evolving industry standard applications and products of commercial value out of universities to industry.

Duval van Zijl is the Climate Director of the LaunchLab, Stellenbosch University. He stated that even though Africa contributes only 3% to carbon emissions globally, its population growth projections makes it implicit for the continent to begin now, the process of putting in place low carbon products to ensure a secure future. He presented the IAU ClimateLab which was created in 2022 as an IAU project. He also described the keys to creating a unique university-based Launch-Lab Business Model as growing entrepreneurship and innovation across campuses and building high impact, sustainable start-ups originating from student ideas, technology transfer, alumni and at large teams. He presented the 4 businesses supported as part of the IAU ClimateLab from the drones used for planting crops to solar based cookstoves aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as only a tip of the iceberg. He gave a rallying call to the room... Together we can transform seemingly impossible into world-shaping.

The audience reaction was extremely positive with many questions as well as comments centred on the eagerness to build collaborations across the 3 continents of USA; UK & Africa. In response, Adetomi stressed that the British Council is open to establishing the necessary partnerships needed to address the problem of employability that the continent’s youth face on a daily basis. Meekness Lunga, who was the session chair, summarised the result of programme, according to her, today there are 35 Projects in 87 institutions with 389 Network partners as well as project team members and over 7,000 student participants. She also called for deeper partnerships and collaborations.

Notes to Editor

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About the British Council

The Innovation for African Universities (IAU) programme, which was launched in 2021 by the British Council to support the development of Africa – UK Higher Education Partnerships to build institutional capacity for higher education development in entrepreneurship ecosystems in selected African cities. The intended goal of the IAU is to strengthen the entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem and improve student employability outcomes in SSA universities. The main mechanism of change is a Community of Practice (CoP) that brings together universities in the UK and SSA to engage, interact and learn from one another with the aim of developing mutually beneficial partnerships