Why entrepreneurship education is vital for the region
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Why entrepreneurship education is vital for the region

Why entrepreneurship education is vital for the region

Experiential learning journeys, collaborations at a university level and even the private sector, all have a role in educating the next generation of entrepreneurs

Emirati employee

Entrepreneurship has long been considered an asset to the economy and a popular career choice for the flexibility and freedom it affords. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, three-quarters of the population regard entrepreneurship as a good career choice. That is the highest global average according to the Global Entrepreneurship Research Association at the London Business School.

The hope that entrepreneurship holds for young adults across the MENA region sits in direct contrast to the Arab youth unemployment rate of almost 23 per cent – especially when the global rate sits much lower at 13.7 per cent. The promise of self-reliance is important to students in the region who are willing to work harder and longer if that means elevating their well-being and sense of security.

Countries like the UAE are clear examples of this phenomenon – it ranks first among MENA countries offering entrepreneurial opportunities and sits amongst the top economies supporting entrepreneurs globally.

Supply and demand – then what?
While the landscape is ripe for budding entrepreneurs with ideas they want to take to the next level, they need supportive entrepreneurship education. The ecosystem needs to cultivate entrepreneurship, or we risk the hard work of youth being subject to either luck or advantageous social capital. In both cases, we can and should do better. Both as a community preparing youth to grow into contributing citizens and residents of the MENA region; and as incubators of great minds that will develop and deliver sustainable solutions.

The catch-all promise of entrepreneurship is often lauded as the next solution to the MENA region’s unemployment crisis. But what does that look like in practice and what are the steps we are taking towards forging strategic partnerships to that effect?

History tells us that we will need a range of solutions working in harmony to address the growing crisis that is a security threat to peace, as well as prosperity. No one organisation or sector can address all the contextual issues in a region with such a disproportionately high number of displaced people, health and economic downturns, continued conflict, natural disasters, and a host of other multiplying variables. But we do have evidence that the future of work has entrepreneurship as a key solution for the bigger picture – especially now with the entrepreneurial ecosystems in the MENA region growing significantly.

Collaboration and partnership are at the core
A well-rounded entrepreneurship education requires the collaboration of industry partners to cultivate the professional and growth-oriented skills required to succeed. This method requires a shift in mindset away from traditional teaching approaches and requires the joint effort of professors, industry experts and other professionals for students to let their ideas percolate and be prepared for the entrepreneurial journey.

As more and more innovation and incubator units are cropping up next to science and technology parks in the region, the need for structure has become integral to their lasting success. Students should demand and expect systematised high-quality entrepreneurship education as part of the university experience. In reality, if we do this right, it will be an asset for all post-secondary programmes of learning – because the best ideas come from anywhere and everywhere.

From theory to practice
The skills learned through traditional higher education are just one way that Arab youth can prepare for a successful entrepreneurial career. Hands-on experiences are necessary for developing the transferable skills and abilities needed to carry students from university to employment, or business ownership. Given the need for experiential learning journeys, universities cannot be expected to be the sole entity to provide opportunities to learn. Private sector initiatives can and should play a key role to contribute responsibly to practical learning programmes that will generate wider benefits for entrepreneurial development in the region.

When done right, these strategic partnerships offer the best chance at an education that will effectively allow youth to learn highly transferable skills sought by employers regardless of background. This covers organisational, leadership, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills that will serve them well as they enter the workforce. These are the skills that the World Economic Forum has identified as the job skills of tomorrow.

Corporate-university bridge
Corporate allies should be part of the solution. Academia needs to come to terms with the reality that corporates, frustrated with the skills of new graduates, are now creating their own programmes of learning. A joint approach is beneficial to all – students, universities and businesses. When universities work alongside industry partners with the sincere belief that each has expertise to offer students, they can then start to bridge the gap together. That bridge provides students pathways that allow them to develop those laudable entrepreneurial skills. Moreover, those students will find the skills to grow early-stage ideas to business opportunities for themselves and their communities. If corporates are smart about it, they will support those good ideas and perhaps diversify their own business investments.

Since the onset of the pandemic, we have witnessed universities move quickly to serve their students in a responsive manner. To continue to help students, university leadership will need to create partnership opportunities with the private sector to enhance entrepreneurship education as a key part of any degree programme.

Dr Sonia Ben Jaafar is the CEO of Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education

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