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 productivity. Unfortunately, unemployment and underemployment have held back productivity, resulting in very slow development in Africa.
Shortly after the “Arab Spring”, when youth movements helped overthrow the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, the African Development Bank predicted that social cohesion and political stability could be undermined. -politics of the lack of decent work in Africa.
In Nigeria, the EndSARS 2020 protest showed that youth unemployment has become an emergency that needs urgent attention.
The highest unemployment rate recorded in Nigeria in 2020 was for youth between the ages of 15 and 24. In this age group, 40.8% (13.9 million) of Nigerian youths are unemployed.
Even education does not guarantee a decent job. Unemployment among people with doctorate degrees reached 16.9% in 2020. Many PhD graduates are still roaming the streets and cyberspace of finding a suitable job that meets the requirements.
More than a decade before the EndSARS protests, Nigeria’s Ministry of Education, together with the National Universities Commission, introduced a curriculum for the development of entrepreneurial skills in of Nigerian universities making it a compulsory subject for University students.
Funding was offered to build a business center where students and teachers can develop business skills. These centers are also designed to provide advice and support to teachers and student entrepreneurs.
The goal is to support the emergence of a university environment where students and faculty can create value that will attract financial returns. This will give Nigerian graduates more options in their lives – not just competing for white collar jobs.
Ten years later, the graduate unemployment rate continues to rise. This begins to show the need to review the design, delivery and implementation of Nigerian entrepreneurship education programmes.
My PhD research sought to contribute to this by looking at students’ experiences of business education in the universities of Lagos and Ogun.
I have seen that the participating students have high business skills, but don’t really want to use them. They did not see business as a way to achieve their goals in life, and still expected to get a white collar job. The solution, I believe, is to make the curriculum and educational support more realistic about entrepreneurship – in part by drawing on real entrepreneurs as resources.
Where to focus on impact
I administered questionnaires to 2,394 final year students and conducted interviews with directors of six business development centers in Lagos and Ogun States.
One thing I want to understand is which aspects of the business program can quickly produce the desired impact. I looked at student engagement, student support, teaching quality and teaching resources. Of these, the quality of education has shown the strongest potential for rapid impact.
This means that teachers and facilitators of business education need to know what to teach, what not to teach and how to teach.
In short, teachers who are entrepreneurs will be better business teachers. Their personal stories will make a big difference.
The results also provide evidence that successful entrepreneurship education programs require collaboration.
When it comes to student support, only one university I studied at had a structured program to help students grow their startups. Other universities have offered walk-in opportunities for donors and investors to support student businesses.
A system should be put in place for student funding, competitions, seed funding, mentoring, accelerators and other opportunities to support student businesses. It is the responsibility of the university administration to do this.
Support from external partners will be an additional resource rather than a pillar of the university’s programs.
One of the directors of the entrepreneurship and skills development center noted that entrepreneurship education is not easy and the government lacks education and training. Large classes of over 600 students also made it difficult to teach effectively. Students should be able to work in smaller groups and teams.
Government funding appears to be dwindling, as evidenced by the recent teacher strike. Therefore, it may be necessary to attract external stakeholders to support competitions, clubs and student teams.
The experience students have must be directly related to the reality of business and entrepreneurs. You only have to read, hear, talk, or write about business.
Facilitators of such courses should provide students with activities that connect them to the business world.
Read more: Universities in Nigeria can make money and create jobs: here’s how
Not all aspects of the curriculum can be taught by academics. There should be linkages that allow business students to act as mentors, facilitators and funders.
Sometimes street vendors, street mechanics or street food vendors are the best people to teach students about starting a business.
Another useful role model is someone with years of experience who has failed and succeeded as an entrepreneur.
Map the way forward
A sustainable business skills development program requires a collaborative approach where universities, entrepreneurs, successful and unsuccessful entrepreneurs and students are actively involved.
University administrators need to provide a system that will open the university to cooperation with entrepreneurs and industry to provide support in terms of funding, infrastructure, resources and technical expertise.
Universities should base decisions on interventions and collaborations with data on what has the most impact.
Marketing of university products and products should be encouraged. Entrepreneurial teachers should be valued. The system should take into account the interaction between theory and practice.