Sharing university expertise across Africa
What precisely is the IAU, and why was it important for the British Council to create it?
The IAU is an opportunity for universities across specific locations in sub-Saharan Africa and the UK to partner with one another and, through these partnerships, to foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship within universities in the region to create a centre of excellence and of knowledge.
We’ve created a community that supports universities in learning from each other across the African continent. We recognise that expertise sits within the continent and for solutions to be created, they need to be homegrown.
We need to ensure that we’re showcasing with good practice and bringing or creating a platform and a community where people can learn – and also, where universities, institutions and academics can learn from one another, thereby unlocking the potential that exists in the region.
The programme has so far been delivered in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Ghana. Can you explain why you chose these countries?
These locations were chosen because we have already worked there. We have a legacy of partnerships and communities and networks that we’ve worked with for the past decade. We wanted to focus on the huge youth demographic that exists across the continent.
There is a great entrepreneurship ecosystem developing organically across Africa, and we wanted universities to be able to contribute positively to the general conversation.
We also recognise that by delivering it in these four locations, there will be a trajectory of development where the needs differ. For example, when it comes to entrepreneurial ecosystems in Nigeria, there’s a difference in what’s happening there compared to what’s happening in Kenya, what’s happening in South Africa, what’s happening in Ghana.
We wanted to ensure that the learning from the programme is scaled across the higher education systems in those four countries. There was deep engagement from the beginning at policy level – just letting people know what the project was about, what we wanted to achieve and getting that buy-in at the highest levels.
What sets this one apart from other development projects in Africa?
Academics point out that a key issue is young people lacking the skills, knowledge and expertise to access jobs. We’ve identified quite clearly who the critical stakeholders are. In order to ensure that universities engage positively with the entrepreneurial ecosystems, we brought the players from those ecosystems in the four countries into the conversation and created this community of practice and learning.
One of the key things we were looking to achieve with this was how we can best engage – to partner and learn to engage positively with one another and to partner in the long term for sustainable outcomes.
What has excited you most about the IAU?
It has been extraordinary looking at some of the outcomes we’ve been able to achieve in the short term, and just hearing some of the stories that have come out. We talk about a university partnership project but at the end of the day, the long-term impact that we’re trying to achieve lies with young people. It’s about ensuring that young people are positively positioned for the future and have the skills to build sustainable livelihoods.
And it has been remarkable to see some of the stories that are coming through from the project. For example, I met a young lady from a Nigerian university who built some drone-enabled tech that essentially identifies plastic waste in even the most obscure geographical terrain. Those are the kinds of things that we want to happen. We want to change the way that people engage with students in the classroom.
What do you think the British Council needs to do in order to scale the programme up?
Our immediate priority is sharing the knowledge and the learning from this and then working out how we scale this to ensure that more universities, more ESOC enterprise support organisations can actively participate.
The programme has already received highly positive feedback. We are poised to go into a wider dissemination for sub-Saharan Africa. In terms of stakeholder engagement at the lowest level, it’s been really positive. People are excited and we can’t wait to share the results with a wider audience.