The six key elements of an entrepreneurial university

Professor Deresh Ramjugernath, pro vice-chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa was covered in University World News (Issue No. 389) for his six key elements of an entrepreneurial university.

According to Ramjugernath, good leadership and governance, capacity incentives, entrepreneurship in teaching and learning, a culture of entrepreneurship, stakeholder partnerships, and internationalisation are the new must of higher education.  The pro vice-chancellor for innovation, commercialisation and entrepreneurship stated that innovation and entrepreneurship for development and for nation-building is what universities really had to do, and this is particularly relevant for the MENA countries.

Unfortunately, universities are either driven by “subsidy formulas, are so driven by world rankings, are so driven by being number one or number two in the country in terms of research, that they have lost perspective of what it means to be a university and what it means to build a nation.” said Ramjugernath at the South African Technology Network’s Eighth Annual International Conference 2015 on “Entrepreneurship Education for Economic Renewal”.


Ramjugernath insisted that despite the dizzying pace of change are not responding sufficiently to the evolving knowledge economy, and they need to become more entrepreneurial. In order to do so, Ramjugernath proposed six key elements of an entrepreneurial university.

Leadership and governance

Every institution, said Ramjugernath, should have an “executive portfolio for innovation and entrepreneurship that pulls together and coordinates entrepreneurship initiatives across all levels of the institution. Entrepreneurship must also sit down at the school, department and unit level. It must be something that we breathe and live every single day as an organisation.”


“What we really should be doing is incentivising entrepreneurial behaviour and innovation.” said Ramjugernath. Universities should recruit and engage with entrepreneurs. “All we do is give students a text book on entrepreneurship and tell them, ‘this is what you should be doing’.  A lot of the time the people in front of the class giving talks on entrepreneurship haven’t experienced it themselves, so they are talking from text books as well.

“It is important that we integrate talented entrepreneurs into teaching programmes, because the best way to do it is by example. There is no better way than for a successful entrepreneur to come and say, ‘this is where I was 10 years ago, this is what I achieved, you can do it’.”

“It is all the qualities that you seek in an entrepreneur – consistent behaviour, the ability to recover from failures, persistence, doesn’t take no for an answer, has passion and so forth. Obviously we have to incentivise and award that type of behaviour.”

Teaching and learning

It was essential for universities to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and skills. “We live in an age where technology is changing by the day but a lot of institutions still have whiteboards and chalkboards. We must be more innovative and entrepreneurial in teaching approaches.” The ways students learn has changed, Ramjugernath explained. Today learning is more visual and multimedia. “Entrepreneurial behaviour in teaching and learning must be supported by the institution and we must validate entrepreneurial outcomes.”

A culture of entrepreneurship

“The important thing is to have an enabling environment to finance entrepreneurial activities on campus,” Ramjugernath stressed, whether it was mainstream, external, venture or other funding. “It is important to have a coordinated effort at institutions to drive this.

“All universities should have a science, technology and innovation department and business incubation facilities to support efforts to take ideas all the way to the market. This creates opportunities for students to get first-hand exposure to business start-ups and entrepreneurs, to take the day-to-day knowledge they have gained in lectures, come into an innovation type environment, come up with an idea and then take it to market.”

Relationships and partnerships

“Stakeholders’ relationships and strategic business partnerships are key to driving innovation and entrepreneurship,” according to Ramjugernath. An ‘ivory tower’ mentality was undermining opportunities for fruitful relationships. Businesses and government must be encouraged to visit campuses, and universities must go and speak to them – “it must be seamless”, said Ramjugernath.


Internationalisation is a key aspect of any university entrepreneurship strategy, and includes international mobility of students and staff, attracting international and entrepreneurial staff, demonstrating internationalisation in teaching and participating in international networks.

“Without internationalisation we cannot go down this road of really pushing the agenda of innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Ramjugernath. “We’ve got to use our partnerships and resources globally to drive this agenda. “It is important to have mobility – not just the exchange of ideas and of knowledge but of students and staff, so that it is a culture exchange as well.”


Innovation and entrepreneurship are key to addressing socio-economic challenges, and universities should be directly tackling problems such as unemployment, poverty, low economic growth and inequality.

Higher education needs to be more directly involved in the development of the MENA region countries. “Universities need to evolve from teaching and learning, research and engagement to being drivers of innovation and entrepreneurship. And they need to work with all stakeholders in the innovation and entrepreneurship system – in the best interests of the nation and citizens.”