The rate of unemployment – including graduate unemployment – in Nigeria is alarming. While the unemployment rate across the entire working population was 23.1%, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the jobless rate among Nigerians between the ages of 15-34 was 29.7% in the third quarter of 2018.
Apart from a weak economy that is haemorrhaging jobs, one of the factors responsible for the high unemployment rates in Nigeria is an obsolete higher education system that continues to churn out graduates, many of them having neither employable nor entrepreneurship skills.
There is, therefore, an urgent need for a paradigm shift that entails training students to become highly skilled entrepreneurs and job creators upon graduation. This requires entrenching entrepreneurship education (EE) into the academic curricula of tertiary institutions. But the big question is whether entrepreneurship can be taught.
A 2014 World Bank report identified EE and training as a catalyst for innovation and job creation initiatives among university graduates, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) where graduate unemployment rates are high. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has also said teaching entrepreneurship is key to combating unemployment. This suggests that entrepreneurship can be taught and learned. Promoting an entrepreneurship culture particularly entails teaching a set of cognitive and non-cognitive skills, including those that will enable students identify opportunities, take risks, and also have the ability to persevere through failure.
Some years ago, the Nigerian University Commission (NUC) introduced entrepreneurship development programmes into academic curricula of universities. In 2012, the Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development (SAED) programme was established by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) as a way to promote skill acquisition and entrepreneurship development among young graduates. However, findings on the outcomes of these programmes have revealed that there are not enough trained lecturers and instructors to teach EE in the country’s tertiary institutions and during the NYSC programme. Instructional facilities or materials for teaching EE are also sorely lacking.
Entrepreneurship Education is not a new concept in education. In 1947, Harvard Business School’s (HBS) professor emeritus, Myles L. Mace, taught the first entrepreneurship course at HBS. Since then the number of programmes in the field grew as EE became popular in the 1980s in Western countries.
In a research article, published in the Journal of Entrepreneurship Education, Chien Wen Yu, an Associate Professor at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts, concludes that there is actually a strong relationship between the level of EE in a country and the amount of start-up activities. The article, “Understanding the Ecosystems of Chinese and American Entrepreneurship Education,” shows that entrepreneurship education, as well as government support for startups at industry level, are the factors that have set the United States and China apart as the world’s entrepreneurial powers today.
The established entrepreneurship education system in the U.S. is underpinned by strong institutions and processes, including business incubators, accelerators, and protections for patents and trademarks. Each institution or process exists to play a role to advance entrepreneurship and innovation.
Placing a high priority on innovation and entrepreneurship, the Chinese government has, since 2015, been expanding the scope of its “mass entrepreneurship and innovation” campaign. The campaign involves financial support and tax incentives for entrepreneurs, with the aim to make the economy more innovation-driven. Over the last two decades, the Chinese economy has produced billionaire entrepreneurs such as Ma Huateng, also known as Pony Ma, CEO of Tencent; Lei Jun, co-founder and chairman of Xiaomi; and Jack Ma, co-founder and executive chair of Ali Baba Group.
These two countries understand that while traditional courses such as medicine, accounting, finance, marketing, and so on are useful, the new economy also requires the supply of other skills and aptitudes. For example, innovation, complex critical thinking, networking, negotiating, team work, social and emotional intelligence, and creativity are valuable and must be learned by any entrepreneur that wants to be successful.
Innovation is a vital element of the entrepreneurship system. Innovation involves creatively coming up with new ideas and novel solutions to address various social needs or problems. Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) said innovation is the key to Africa’s jobs crisis and the bulging youth population.
Innovation is also what gives businesses competitive advantage. Therefore, it is important that new and would-be entrepreneurs are taught how to think creatively and innovate. Integrating innovation and creativity into EE curricula can go a long way in attracting more students, reducing graduate joblessness and boosting overall socio-economic development.
Another critical unit of the EE is social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurs are those entrepreneurs who seek social change by finding solutions to social, cultural, or environmental issues. In recent times, academic institutions are introducing entrepreneurship students to this concept, developing a unique business model whereby they can make profit while addressing societal challenges.
Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola, Founder and CEO of WeCyclers is a Nigerian social entrepreneur. Wecyclers is a recycling company. It has an innovative approach of using fleet of cargo-bikes to collect waste from low-income and densely populated urban neighbourhoods across Lagos State. The company provides incentives or “point” to households for every kilogramme of waste material collected. Those “points” can be turned into rewards. The waste is then used as raw material for the local recycling industry. In 2018, Nairametrics described her as “Nigeria’s queen of recycling and environmental sustainability.”
Some people have misconstrued entrepreneurship to mean simply starting a small business. But nothing could be further from the truth. Every great business or innovation in the world today was started by an entrepreneur and had myriads of chances of failure.
And without a doubt, entrepreneurs play a major role in economic development. According to the Organization for Economic and Co-operative Development (OECD), small and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs) account for 60-70% of jobs in most OECD countries. SMEs also constitute over 95% of enterprises and account for 60-70% of jobs in most OECD countries. Indeed, they are considered the backbone of the entire British economy, accounting for more than half of the trade turnover of the United Kingdom.
Nigeria must develop its human capital to be globally competitive. One of the ways to achieve competitiveness is by supporting entrepreneurs that will drive innovation in the economy. Training students who graduate only to become job seekers is an underutilisation of the country’s human resources. There needs to be a coordinated policy support to deepen entrepreneurship education in tertiary institutions. And like China and U.S., the Nigerian government must also provide financial support for entrepreneurs and selected sectors that would drive big and fast job growth.