Nigeria’s education for entrepreneurs needs to keep it real, not just in the classroom

Africa is home to more than 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24, according to UN data. The continent has the largest youth population in the world.

This should be a sign of great productive potential. Unfortunately, youth unemployment and underemployment have held back productivity, resulting in a very slow pace of development in Africa.

Shortly after the “Arab Spring”, when youth movements helped to overthrow the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, the African Development Bank predicted that n -lack of decent employment opportunities in Africa can undermine social cohesion and political stability.

In Nigeria, the 2020 EndSARS protest showed that youth unemployment had become an emergency requiring urgent attention.

The highest unemployment rate recorded in Nigeria in 2020 was for 15-24 year olds. In that age group, 40.8% (13.9 million) of Nigerian youths were unemployed.

Even education is no guarantee of a decent job. Unemployment among people with a doctorate degree was 16.9% in 2020. Many PhD graduates still roam the streets and the online space in search of decent jobs that fit the qualification.

More than ten years before the EndSARS protest, Nigeria’s ministry of education, in partnership with the National Universities Commission, introduced a curriculum for developing entrepreneurship skills in Nigerian universities making it a compulsory course for University undergraduate students.

Funds were provided for the establishment of entrepreneurship centers where students and lecturers could develop the capacity for an entrepreneurial mindset. These centers are also intended to serve as hubs that provide consultancy and support for faculty and student entrepreneurs.

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The goal is to support the emergence of a university ecosystem where students and lecturers create value that will attract financial returns. This in turn gives Nigerian graduates more options in their working life – not just competing for white collar jobs.

Ten years later, the graduate unemployment rate is still rising. This is beginning to expose the need to rethink the design, delivery and partnerships for the implementation of the Nigerian entrepreneurship education programme.

My PhD research sought to contribute to this by exploring students’ experience of entrepreneurship education in the universities of Lagos and Ogun states.

I found that the participating students had a high level of entrepreneurial skills, but I didn’t really want them to have to use them. They did not feel entrepreneurship as a way to achieve their goals in life, and were still hoping for white collar jobs. The solution, I believe, is to make the curriculum and learning support more realistic about business – in part by using actual entrepreneurs as a resource.

Where to focus for impact

I gave questionnaires to 2,394 final year students and conducted interviews with six directors of entrepreneurship development centers in Lagos and Ogun States.

One thing I wanted to understand was what aspect of entrepreneurship programs could produce the needed impact the fastest. Student engagement, student support, quality of teaching and teaching resources were the aspects I looked at. Of these, the quality of teaching has shown the strongest potential to make an impact quickly.

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The implication is that lecturers and facilitators of entrepreneurship education need to know what to teach, what not to teach, and how to teach.

In short, lecturers who are entrepreneurs themselves will be better teachers of entrepreneurship. Their personal stories will make a big difference.

The findings also provide evidence that effective entrepreneurship education programs require collaboration.

When it comes to student support, only one of the universities in my study had a structured program to help students grow their start-ups. Other universities have provided walk-in opportunities for funders and investors to support student businesses.

Structures should be established for student grants, competitions, start-up funding, mentoring, accelerators and other opportunities that support student businesses. It is up to the university management to do this.

Support from external stakeholders would then be an extra resource rather than a pillar that sustains the university’s program.

One of the directors of the Centers for Entrepreneurship and Skills Development pointed out that entrepreneurial education was not cheap to provide but the government was not providing adequate teaching and learning resources. Large classes of over 600 students also made it difficult to teach effectively. Students should be able to work in groups and smaller teams.

Resources for use

Government funding seems to be decreasing, as evidenced by the recent lecturers’ strike. It may therefore be necessary to attract external stakeholders to sponsor competitions, clubs and student teams.

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The students’ learning experience should involve being directly in contact with the realities of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs. It should not just involve reading about, listening to, talking about, or writing about entrepreneurship.

Facilitators of such courses should give students activities that connect them to the world of entrepreneurs.

Read more: Nigerian universities can find funding and produce job creators: here’s how

Not every aspect of the curriculum can be taught by academics. There should be linkages that provide opportunities for practicing entrepreneurs to be mentors, facilitators and funders of student entrepreneurs.

Sometimes the street dealer, the street mechanic or the street food vendor is the best person to teach students about starting a business.

Other useful role models are people with many years of experience who fail and succeed as an entrepreneur.

Mapping the way forward

A sustained entrepreneurial skills development program requires a collaborative approach in which universities, business people, successful and unsuccessful entrepreneurs and students are active participants.

University managers need to provide structures that open universities to collaborations with entrepreneurs and industries to provide support in terms of initial funding, infrastructure, human resources and technical expertise.

Universities should base decisions about interventions and partnerships on data about what has the most impact.

The commercialization of university products and outputs should be encouraged. Entrepreneurial lecturers should be valued. The system should welcome a handshake between theory and practice.


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