Universities are key to entrepreneurship in Africa

The African Institute for Transformational Entrepreneurship will help propel Africa to the forefront of new knowledge creation, argues John Latham

March 31, 2016
Man shaking hands and receiving university diploma

Register now to attend the THE Africa Universities Summit on 27-29 April 2016


Africa is undoubtedly on the rise. The Economist’s 2013 Hopeful Continent report identified progress in many key areas, including life expectancy, basic infrastructure and secondary-school enrolment.

But a continent of over 50 countries representing more than one-fifth of the world’s land area is always going to be challenging to understand and engage with. Even the UK – small and homogeneous by comparison – has its fair share of areas disadvantaged by the many complex factors that determine whether a community succeeds or not.

But this is where institutions of higher learning have a key role to analyse, assess and be active – not treating the continent as a laboratory experiment to be viewed with intellectual detachment but seizing the opportunity to play a crucial role in nurturing regional talent, building capacity and fostering innovation. This involves working with African universities to help them to build structures and approaches appropriate for their context and the future of HE globally. It would be unconscionable to unthinkingly replicate Western higher education models in Africa just as they are showing their limitations in terms of accessibility and affordability.

My own institution, Coventry University, already has initiatives under way focusing on enterprise and innovation, and we are planning to scale them up. Like many UK universities – and not just former polytechnics – Coventry was founded to meet the needs of local industry and the communities that depend on it, and we would like to help African universities do the same, building on what we have learned and what more we can learn together.

But this is not an example of us imposing our own agenda. Africa also has its powerful enterprising spirit, going back hundreds of years. Emmanuel Akyeampong, professor of history and African studies at Harvard University, and Hippolyte Fofack, chief economist and director of research at the African Export-Import Bank, pointed out in an article in The Guardian last year that when Portuguese explorers first arrived on the East African coast at the turn of the 16th century, they found “rich merchants” wearing “clothes of fine cotton and of silk and many fine things”.

Entrepreneurship remains far from absent in Africa, but it is struggling to address major challenges, such as the unemployment, deepening income inequality and sluggish socio-economic growth found in various parts of the continent. A new approach is needed.

Having been active in the field of entrepreneurship for 20 years, I am almost certain that activity focused predominantly on the individual entrepreneur or local region will not have the necessary positive impact on socio-economic development. Micro and subsistence enterprises are important for cascading wealth to the broader society, but small market sizes do not create sufficient capacity for wealth creation. It is important also to focus on building and maintaining a supportive ecosystem for transformational entrepreneurship. This requires entrepreneurship education and research into appropriate policy formulation in order to create mindsets that are both enterprising and law-abiding.

Coventry aims to contribute to all these areas as a founder member of a brand new African Institute for Transformational Entrepreneurship, due to officially launch in April. The initiative, set up with South Africa’s Stellenbosch University and Ghana’s University of Cape Coast, in collaboration with the Association of African Universities, will run a collaborative programme of education, research and practice-based activity.

Interaction with colleagues and participants in Africa will be through face-to-face workshops, research exchanges and internet-based tools; through its International Centre for Transformational Entrepreneurship, Coventry will maintain a virtual environment, allowing participants to interact on a continuous basis.

The institute will establish models that all African countries can adopt, expand and cascade. In this way, we hope to make our own particular contribution to propelling Africa into the forefront of new knowledge creation, alongside the very best in the world.

John Latham is vice-chancellor and CEO of Coventry University.

Professor Latham will be speaking at Times Higher Education’s annual Africa Universities Summit on 27-29 April 2016 at the University of Ghana in Accra.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Innovate for innovation

Reader's comments (1)

How I wish that the collaboration among your university, universities in Ghana and South Africa with AAU could be extended to the University of Ibadan Ibadan NIGERIA.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Vice Principal DURHAM UNIVERSITY
Reader/Professor of Race and Education LEEDS BECKETT UNIVERSITY
Professor of Teacher Education LEEDS BECKETT UNIVERSITY

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest