Exploring innovation for African universities

Sub-Saharan African countries show an education crisis, skills crisis, insecurity crisis and high rate of poverty exacerbated by unemployment crisis, with nearly one in two young people between 16 and 35 years without a full-time job. The high rate of unemployment threatens the economic stability, political stability, peace and security of the region. Within this context, the British Council launched the Innovation for African Universities program that granted 24 projects worth more than 2.4 million pounds across Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa.

This editorial explores five themes of the IAU programmes, the aims and objectives considered very critical to advancing employability skills that could make graduates work or job ready and create new entrepreneurs able to engage in new start-ups or solve real-world problems.

The first line of the IAU program is Entrepreneurship and Graduate Employability. One of the projects, Innovation and Entrepreneurship for Higher Education is a partnership between the University of Lincoln, the United Kingdom, Coal City University, Enugu and ADIRM, Research Institute, Enugu, Nigeria aimed at developing entrepreneurship, employability skills and digital skills of undergraduates and graduates in eastern Nigeria. Another project is the NEXUS between Semicolon Africa, Lagos Business School and Henley Business School. NEXUS explores how to transform the high volume of entrepreneurial activities on the continent into investable job-creating ventures, closing the massive skills gaps and building better functioning innovation ecosystems to support start-ups.

WECAP – Wits Entrepreneurship Clinic and Accelerator Program is a partnership between Tshimologong, the African Circular Economy Network, the University of Edinburgh and the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. While Accelerating Youth Entrepreneurship in Tourism Innovation and Youth Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Tourism in Africa is a project between six partners including the University of Brighton, Strathmore University, University of Ghana, Sustainable Travel and Tourism Agenda, Africa Tourism Partners and Center for Change, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management.

Another project, Co-Production of Youth Entrepreneurship, in Kenya, is a program between the KCA University, the University of Nottingham Business School and others. While the project, Inclusive Innovation – Supporting Disabled design and Entrepreneurship program is a partnership between Aston University and the South African Federation of the Disabled. These projects focus on enhancing students’ employability and strengthening the entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem among youth.

The second line of the IAU program is Social Enterprise Innovation. One of the projects is Graduate Employability within the Higher Education Framework: The Ghanaian Perspective is a partnership between Accra Technical University and University of Huddersfield and others. This project aims at evaluating the effect of social enterprise orientation on youth employability. Similarly, the STEM and Social Impact Business Incubator programme, a partnership between the London School of Economics and other partners focuses on developing entrepreneurs that will become job creators and social problem solvers. While Supporting Youth Social Entrepreneurship in SSA: Partnerships, Barriers and Opportunities in South Africa focuses on exploring the barriers social entrepreneurs face, and the opportunities available to them. This is a partnership between Glasgow Caledonian University, the University of Free State and others.

The third line of the IAU program is Enterprise Education and Curriculum Design. One of the projects, University Co-creation and Innovation Hub is a partnership between the University of Medical Sciences, Ondo State, Nigeria, Liverpool John Moores University, UK and Teenpreneurs Educational Foundation, Lagos, Nigeria. Another project, Embedding Enterprise Education in the curriculum to address unemployment in the construction sector is a partnership between the Mangosuthu University of Technology and other partners. These programs contribute to an industry-informed needs analysis, focusing on the digital skills required to build an innovative and adaptable workforce. While DIFFERENTIATE is a project between Lancaster University and others that develops an entrepreneurship curriculum that serves local, regional and national economic development.

The fourth line of the IAU program focuses on digital skills, digital literacy and technopreneurship. Business Innovation & Incubation Center is a partnership between Cape Peninsula University of Technology, South Africa, Manchester Metropolitan University UK and Snake Nation. This project offers a means through which students can become technopreneurs by converting their innovative ideas into commercially viable and sustainable start-ups and hence, offer job opportunities for themselves and/or their peers. Another project Youth Entrepreneurship Accelerator Program is a collaboration between Northumbria University, Kenyatta University, Technological Uni of Kenya and the EEFEA. This project aims to investigate the possibility of tackling youth unemployment challenges using digital innovation that connects young rural entrepreneurs with urban entrepreneurs and other ecosystem players.

Within the digital and technology space is Project Kenten: Innovation to Enterprise. This is a collaboration between Regional Maritime University and the University of Durham. While Accelerating Entrepreneurship Support in Universities in Kenya is a project between the University of Nottingham and Riara University. These projects aim to use digital integrated platforms to launch a Virtual Accelerator, digital infrastructure for deploying and scaling entrepreneurship training and networking with industry for students to put into practice hard-learned classroom-based learning. Also, Connecting Accrais a partnership with Imperial College London, University of Ghana and Impact Hub Accra that examine how links between stakeholders such as students, tech hubs and universities can be improved. Other projects in this category include Innovations for the Digital Economy: Labor Market Change and Supply and Demand of Entrepreneurial Skills, a partnership between the University of Johannesburg and the University of Warwick.

A fifth line is Agri-entrepreneurship, Climate Change and Carbon Literacy. The project, Agri-entrepreneurship Curriculum Development for Social Innovation, Youth Unemployment and Impact of Climate Change is a partnership between Swansea University and the University of Kwa Zulu Natal. While Social Enterprise Incubator for South Africa is a partnership between Coventry University and other partners. These projects focus on strengthening Africa’s entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem by increasing engagement with social and environmental entrepreneurs. Similarly, Transforming Climate Innovation Ecosystems Through Inclusive Transdisciplinarity is a partnership between the University of Sussex, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology, Kenya Climate Innovation Center, and African Center for Technology Studies.

Carbon Literacy for Youth Employability and Job Creation is a partnership between Sheffield Hallam University and Durban University of Technology. While Ghana Bioenterprise innovations partnership; Foster biomedical research enterprise for better Health and Wellbeing is a collaboration between the University of Health and Allied Sciences, University of Cape Coast and the University of St Andrews that build capabilities that will enable biotechnological spin-offs from various biomedical research projects. Circular Plastic Economy Innovation Hub; Driving Innovation and Entrepreneurship for the Circular Plastic Economy. This project investigates how universities can drive a thriving ecosystem to support and develop waste-to-wealth ventures. This is a partnership between the University of Warwick, Co-Creation Ltd and Pan African University Life and Earth Science Institute.

Taken together, these British Council projects highlight how using different frames of entrepreneurship gives a more expansive view and nuanced framework of knowledge co-creation and innovations that enable the development of a future-proof ecosystem that can help address major concerns regarding education crisis, skills crisis and unemployment crisis in Africa.

Professor Paul Agu Igwe is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Lincoln and Visiting Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Coal City University. Also, the Project Lead Capacity-building towards Future-proof Ecosystem.

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