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When he assumes his reigns as the new Pro-Vice Chancellor of the National University of Lesotho (NUL), Professor Kananelo Mosito will find himself leading a web of innovation that is slowly and steadily unfolding within the corridors of the Roma Valley. It is the web that has been laid down by his predecessors, Professor Nqosa Mahao and Professor ‘Manthoto Lephoto.
When people think about the unfolding innovation ecosystem within the NUL, the word NUL Innovation Hub often comes to mind. Hardly are they aware that the much celebrated hub is a mere “tip of the iceberg.” The hub is engulfed in a complex web of innovation that took years to craft and which is still unfolding to its true potential even as we speak. If not anchored in this web, the hub would soon fall by the wayside.
It is this web that the new Pro-Vice Chancellor will be all too happy to take to next level.
Over the past few years, the National University of Lesotho (NUL) has worked to reinvent itself as an Entrepreneurial University; a university which practices Education 5.0. Such a university goes beyond the three traditional roles of a university: (1) Teaching, (2) Research and (3) Community Service [Education 3.0] to include (4) Innovation and (5) Industrialization [Education 5.0] in its pillars.
Education 5.0 is meant to create a cyclic and sustainable Innovation Ecosystem that is meant to unleash a strong culture of entrepreneurship within the university and to create thousands of jobs across the country.
However, before we get into nature of this web, let us demystify the very idea of an entrepreneurial university first. You see, many have been brought up to believe that a university’s role is merely to teach, research, teach, research, teach and teach and research. “Universities produce manpower,” they say. “They have no business doing business,” they confidently add.
“Publish or perish,” is a traditional slogan.
Well, such thinking can be forgiven. It expresses the reality of a traditional university which sees itself as the creator and defender of basic knowledge (which is good). How that knowledge is used, it doesn’t matter.
However, towards the middle of the last century, the likes of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford University in the US were deliberately going against the flow. Their thinking could be summarised in this way, “we want to work with industry. But if there is no industry, we are going to create it.”
Yes, that attitude summarises the thinking of an entrepreneurial university. Don’t get it wrong. Entrepreneurial Universities are not interested so much in owning and running businesses as they are in giving birth to businesses that will later run on their own. They graduate businesses in the same manner as they graduate students.
They have been liberated from the deadly burden of worrying too much about university rankings because they are running a different race. Their concerns are to touch the life of a man on the street, not to impress with statistics.
Think too about this. If businesses that were influenced by Stanford University were a single country, they would be the 10th largest economy in the world, worth 2.7 trillion US dollars!
Of course, NUL is no Standford. However, it is, in its own way, turning the page into becoming an entrepreneurial university with the objective of influencing Lesotho’s economic landscape by initiating a locally owned, knowledge based economy.
In a nutshell, the unfolding NUL Innovation Ecosystem works this way: Products are conceived and tested at a research level through (a) Product Development and Testing laboratories. They are then transformed into incubated businesses at (b) Innovation Hubs overseen by (c) Innovation Hub Office. Where necessary, the businesses are later accelerated in (d) Acceleration Parks (part of Innovation Hubs), before they go for mass production at (e) Industrial Parks.
Throughout these business development phases, the university (f) Holding Companies look for commercial interests of the university in the businesses. Basically, the holding companies take shares in the businesses with the aim of reallocating some of the revenues back to the university.
The University’s (g) Intellectual Property (IP) Policy whose implementation is governed by (h) Intellectual Property Office, ensures that part of the revenue is invested in the (i) Innovation Fund run by (j) Innovation Fund Office.
The Innovation Fund has a mandate to plough the revenue back to the laboratories and the whole process repeats itself in a cycle. To fuel the process of innovation, valuable skills are needed. This area is answered by the (k) School of Engineering.
The (l) NUL Research and Innovations Office has a mandate of informing the public about the developments of this (m) NUL Innovation Ecosystem on a weekly basis through all kinds of media platforms. The whole Innovation Ecosystem is under the directions of the (n) NUL Research and Innovations Committee which reports to the offices of the both the (o) Pro-Vice Chancellor and the (p) Vice Chancellor.
The (q) Innovation Policy provides direction into the functioning of the entire innovation ecosystem.