If you listen carefully to Basotho, you will note that they are not just asking the National Univesity of Lesotho (NUL) to lead in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, they are actually DEMANDING it! However, some critics of the NUL Innovation Hub have raised an interesting topic. University should not be THE place of business, they say. You might be surprised that we agree with them. Yes, university should not be THE place of business but A place of business. Many African universities are THE place of business and that is where they get it wrong.
Here is why:
1. Univesities which are THE place of business seek to run businesses they have created. There are obvious pitfalls. First, universities are designed for teaching and research with associated bureaucratic financial system. Running a business with such a system is a sure way to fail or at worst, to never grow such business (yes failing is better than not growing). The reason is commonsense, business needs speed and customers need speed and speed is not the speciality of a university.
2. Universities emphasise seniority. That means the voice of a professor is heard more than a voice of a junior lecturer. That’s okay. But when a university becomes THE place of business, you find respected professors who, unfortunately, have little to no passion about business, ironically, leading university run businesses.
3. But when a university becomes A place of business, something different happens. Such a university does not forget that it’s core mandate is teaching, research and community service. However, universities that haven’t recognized that a modern university is an entrepreneurial university miss out on this reality, universities are now expected, by the public, to push innovations and create industries. So entrepreneurial universities create, train and graduate “INDEPENDENT” businesses much the same way they create, train and graduate INDEPENDENT students.
4. Unemployment is one of the greatest dangers facing our country right now. If the National University of Lesotho, the premier institute of knowledge creation in the country, does not take the lead in stimulating Innovation and Entrepreneurship which are the ONLY ways to create jobs and beat unemployment, then who should? Why is it creating any knowledge at all?
NUL, interestingly, has chosen to be A place of business through the NUL Innovation Hub. Innovative business are created, supported and graduated but not neccessarily owned or run by the university itself. Now that is a rare achievement by any Standard for an African University where the need to maintain control is key.
That Basotho have always expected more from NUL than just teaching and research has always been clear. Give this decision to go the innovation route by NUL, just ten years and many Universities, even the best, will pay us a visit to study this model as they see amazing, bold, innovative businesses unleash thousands of jobs.