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Post: Entrepreneurship: an education reform that could provide the solution to South Africa’s triple ills of poverty, unemployment and inequality

Entrepreneurship: an education reform that could provide the solution to South Africa’s triple ills of poverty, unemployment and inequality

It will be another sad day in South Africa when all the graduates in a particular institution of higher learning fail to obtain a job upon graduation.  If the education system in our country does not evolve, I fear that day is closer than many people would hope. To address this, universities need to change to become entrepreneurial and innovative in the true sense, or they will go extinct. Today, South Africa has the highest number of unemployed youths in its history, and a large proportion of these are university graduates. The sad reality is tertiary education no longer guarantees a job.

The capacity-building project in education, FOREST21, with the tagline, “Climate-smart forestry entrepreneurs” is aimed at making universities that are offering forestry programmes in South Africa entrepreneurial at their core. These include Nelson Mandela, Stellenbosch, Venda, Fort Cox and the Tshwane University of Technology.

Like in many other African countries, the education system in South Africa was initially designed to produce better workers, but not necessarily creators of job opportunities and certainly not creators of new products and services that could solve the current challenges faced by humanity. We can no longer ignore the point that traditional educational systems were designed to produce glorified labourers, who cannot help themselves if no one employs them. I have made a few enemies by saying this as I add my voice to the need for educational reforms at higher education institutes. I also fully appreciate that the statement sounds very harsh, especially to someone who had to work incredibly hard to earn their qualification, but the comment is supported by the yearly increases in the number of struggling unemployed university graduates in South Africa. Graduates who are rich in many years of expensive university education based on the regurgitation of facts but financially broken. If the car, telephone, and banking systems of the 1950s have all evolved to what is almost unrecognizable today, why is the education system of 1950 still useful today when we all profess to be educating for the future?

For many, entrepreneurship seems to offer a solution to South Africa’s triple ills of poverty, unemployment and inequality. As such, it is a solution that needs to be thoroughly investigated and hopefully implemented. Closer to home, the Forestry Industry needs graduates that are innovative to solve the real-work challenges in this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world. This was highlighted in a study by Magaga and Scholes (2019) that found the Forestry Industry in need of graduates that will be innovative, proactive, and have a reasonable level of autonomy and competitive aggressiveness to take the industry a step further. All of this is aligned with cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset among the graduates while they are still training. On a personal note, I believe entrepreneurship training should start earlier in the schooling system but ensuring this is the case at a university level is still a welcomed start.

We would have failed the South African society if we reinstate that the sole purpose of an institution of higher learning is to produce graduates through teaching and learning, research outputs, and undertaking community outreach without addressing the South African and Global challenges of unemployment, poverty, inequality, climate change, low economic growth rates, etc. Many universities have deceived themselves and the people that read their strategic plan documents by just carefully inserting the words entrepreneurship and innovation in their narratives and doing nothing more after that. Some have gone further by adding one module of entrepreneurship in their revised curriculum, but that is not enough. The presence of a few professors of entrepreneurship from the business campus next door teaching a few entrepreneurship modules as service providers, does not make an entrepreneurial university. Entrepreneurship must be embedded in every module and every learning experience. It needs to be embraced by every teaching and administrative staff in the university if they are to produce graduates with the correct mindset.

My long departed dad, who had only been to school for two years and could not continue thereafter because he had to take care of important family assignments, once said to me, “this education system from across the seas will only be useful for a short time in Africa if it does not teach people how to relate with three things – money, other people in the society, and Supreme beings (God). I have seen the education system dismally failing to teach graduates how to relate to money. Even the most revered Model C schools and celebrated universities produce super athletes, musicians and artists who are very close to being professional but lack any understanding of trading their athlete bodies, skills and art in a proper business set-up. In a forestry context, our education produces sharp agriculturists that cannot create a functional farming enterprise. Their knowledge is only useful for employment.

Besides inculcating the entrepreneurial mindset through the student-centered problem-based learning methods in forest education, FOREST21 aims at creating an ecosystem where academia, industry, government and society are in continuous collaboration to resolve real human challenges. The model of Triple Helix is an articulation between three social actors—the university, the private sector and the government, with the aim of generating regional development in the area of innovation and was first coined by Henry Etzkowitz and Loet Leydesdorff in the 1990s. The more recent Quadruple Helix Model of innovation recognizes and prioritizes the greater public or society as the fourth major actor in the innovation system, hence now the players are science (academia), policy (government), industry and society.

Universities will need to do these few things, among others to be truly entrepreneurial:

Ensure that entrepreneurship is integrated across all levels of the university. Avoid the temptation of limiting entrepreneurship to a few members of the teaching staff. The administrative staff is key to a successful entrepreneurial university.
Do not reduce entrepreneurship to just another stream of additional income for the university. The presence of University Enterprises is good and underscores the point, but universities should invest substantially in working with governments, industry and civil society to find solutions to ensure the socio-economic upliftment of the country.
Remove the silo-mentality of working as experts in unrelated fields. Universities must embrace the culture of working in inter-disciplinary, multi-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary modes.
Universities need to be proactive and not wait for industry or government to dictate the pace and drive the agenda for the country. They need to become epicentres of the entrepreneurship ecosystem in their regions, leading the thin end.
Embrace change as part of the necessary evolution. The emphasis has been changing with time and that change needs to continue. Universities were once consumed by educating professionals. This was later overtaken by training skilled individuals for the workforce. Recently, the emphasis has been on research, sometimes even pushing the quantity of research outputs at the expense of quality research. Next, is the emphasis on impact. Universities must see their role not just as producers of South Africa’s human capacities, but also as contributing to addressing its challenges.
I am looking forward to the day when some of the 21st Century Climate-smart forestry solutions for sustainability and livelihoods in South Africa will be uninterruptedly co-generated and implemented in that quadruple helix collaboration of universities – industry – government – society.  When this is realized, FOREST21 would have scored the most important goal. For now, the globe-trotting of students, lecturers and managers between South Africa, Finland and Norway in a series of climate-smart forestry, entrepreneurship and pedagogics workshops and student challenges, must not stop until the curricula and teaching-learning methods are revamped to meet the current needs of our society.

The recent FOREST21 workshop held in George, South Africa from 5 – 8 September 2022 was a step in the correct direction of strengthening capacity in South African higher education. The workshop brought together all participating institutions of the project and their students and presented an opportunity to engage the leading minds in the Forestry Sector in a bid to mainstream issues of climate change in forestry education.

Written By: Norman Dlamini, Forestry South Africa Director: Business Unit
Source: Forestry in Focus

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