- Education & training, and the role of universities in developing entrepreneurs – both key pillars of an effective entrepreneurial ecosystem – are the least developed in the Middle East & Africa, as per entrepreneurs trying to grow their companies in the region.
- The higher education system in the region is public and controlled by the political class, thereby denying universities the necessary academic freedom to breed next generation entrepreneurs.
- Courses specific to developing communication and presentation skills of young graduates and future entrepreneurs are missing, and the brain drain following the Arab Spring has further depleted the quality of the region’s graduating workforce.
The higher education system in MENA is the weakest link of the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. This seems to be the key takeaway of a recent report by the World Economic Forum that compares the Entrepreneurial Ecosystems Around the Globe. As per the report, entrepreneurs worldwide view accessible markets, funding & finance, and human capital & workforce as the three most important pillars when it comes to the growth of their companies.
And while Middle East & Africa (MEA) is better placed as compared to other in emerging markets like Asia and South America in terms of market accessibility and access to funding, the region has the least developed human capital workforce among all the regions, required for the development and growth of a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem. And the reason is not very hard to find.
Education & training, and the role of universities in developing entrepreneurs, both key pillars of an effective ecosystem, are the least developed in the MEA as per entrepreneurs trying to grow their companies in the region. Therefore, it is not surprising that the region has the least developed human capital workforce worldwide, and human capital is cited as the biggest challenge to growth by entrepreneurs in MEA.
Source: World Economic Forum – Entrepreneurial Ecosystems Around the Globe and Company Growth Dynamics
Entrepreneurs were asked to identify which of the eight pillars of an entrepreneurial ecosystem were readily available to them as they built their venture.
Most of the higher education system in the region is public and controlled by the political class, thereby denying universities the necessary academic freedom to breed next generation entrepreneurs. Education is a political topic in the region and the recent Arab Spring has only heightened the scrutiny faced by the academia as the political class tries to maintain its control over the content and pedagogy.
As a result, universities are denied the intellectual and academic freedom to develop degrees and content aimed at covering key subjects core to creating a successful business (such as business planning and risk management), with coursework consisting of specialised seminars in which students create business plans to be presented to angel investors or venture capitalists.
Courses specific to developing communication and presentation skills of young graduates and future entrepreneurs are missing. A May 2013 report – Unlocking Arab Youth Entrepreneurship Potential – by entrepreneurship training NGO Injaz al Arab highlighted that schools in the region are schools are focused on rote learning and memorisation rather than problem solving and critical thinking, and that CEOs in the region felt that the education system does not provide graduates with the necessary skills like communication, presentation, teamwork, analytical thinking, and initiative, all critical to developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem
The political instability caused by the Arab Spring has also resulted in a brain drain, as the best lecturers (and students!) in the region have decided to leave the region for better opportunities in developed nations. As per University World News, other problems facing universities in the region included lack of research and publication, challenges of accessibility and quality, and low levels of student and scientific mobility and innovation. The result of these problems is a workforce that is not ready for the development of an effective entrepreneurial ecosystem. This sentiment was further echoed by global entrepreneurship NGO Endeavor, which found that 39% MENA companies cited an inadequately educated workforce as their biggest problem.
Therefore, it is important for governments in the region who view entrepreneurs and their ventures as a vehicle for driving growth and reducing unemployment in their countries, to strengthen their respective higher education systems by giving higher degree of freedom to existing universities with respect to course content and pedagogy, increasing domestic- and foreign- private player participation in the higher education sector to bring in global best practices, tapping successful entrepreneurs living abroad for their advice and connections, and developing more training programs for entrepreneurs, among others.