A British Council-supported programme aims to enhance SA’s innovation success

Published On: 24 March 2022|

The British Council’s flagship sub-Saharan Africa higher education programme, Innovation for African Universities (IAU), is ready to move to the all-important implementation phase.

During 2021, 24 grants were awarded, nine to South African institutions, in the hope that the IAU’s goal – contributing to fostering the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship within universities in Africa – would be met. Ms Meekness Lunga-Ayidu (above), Science and Higher Education Programme Manager at British Council South Africa, expressed the Council’s pleasure at the outcome.

She was addressing a public universities’ executive leadership audience at the two-day Executive Leadership Workshop (ELW), hosted by Universities South Africa’s Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme and sponsored by her organisation, last week.  The ELW 2022 theme was Commercialisation of Research.

Speaking on Connecting the dots with British Council’s Innovation for African Universities, Lunga-Ayidu reaffirmed support for EDHE saying the British Council had developed something that aligned with EDHE goals.


IAU consists of 24 British / Africa partnerships with a focus on entrepreneurship development and is a crucial part of the British Council’s higher education support programme. Ms Lunga-Ayidu, explaining how the dots connect, said the IAU programme is underpinned by three principles:

  1. Universities are best placed to provide students and graduates with the knowledge and skills that will enable them to participate in the economy, including starting and growing businesses.
  2. Universities can support and foster the creation of new ideas, innovation and commercialisation.
  3. IAU is underpinned by the belief that universities have an important role to play in coordinating research efforts around entrepreneurship and the growth of SMEs.

Connecting the dots

“It is crucial to continue to engage and connect the dots between the IAU and activities and initiatives happening in South Africa at both institutional and national levels.” She added that the British Council wanted to ensure its efforts were complimentary, strengthening the repositioning universities as entrepreneurial spaces.

“There is clear alignment between our and the sector ambitions of the EDHE programme. We’ve never seen the IAU as a UK-led programme that is imposed on African universities. It was designed to become a UK supported programme that encompasses collaborations between the UK and African universities – with projects led by the African institutions for their own primary benefit and the entrepreneurship ecosystems in the key cities that have been identified for this programme.”

Different application criteria

On how institutions qualified to participate on the programme, Lunga-Ayidu explained: “We adopted a design thinking approach where all the institutions had to identify a problem at their universities as well as present a plan on how they want to investigate that problem.” Based on that, grants were awarded. The inception phase focused on the deep investigation of the programmes identified. Interim reports were submitted at the end of 2021.

“We really want the IAU to become complimentary to what is happening in this sector in South Africa, and we would like to continue to engage with you leaders of universities,” she told the audience of deputy vice-chancellors, executive directors and directors driving entrepreneurship development at their institutions. She said they were creating a toolkit about best practice and insights on international partnerships based on the IAU.

Cape Peninsula University of Technology as an IAU grant recipient

Professor Judy Peter (below), Director: Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, said the call to enter this programme was made by CPUT’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Dr David Phaho, in the middle of 2021.

She first explained that her office plays an oversight role and connects the dots in her institution’s collaboration projects, and regarding the internationalisation agenda.

“We had to identify the multiple stakeholders at the university and all of them were willing. In the space of three weeks, we were able to put a draft project together. What’s important is having long and established relationships with university partners so there are high levels of trust. Having that in place, we could accelerate the process. Internally we worked with the Faculty of Business Sciences as well as the Technology Transfer Office.”

The Project

CPUT is looking to establish sustainable, inclusive, industry-linked graduate technopreneurship development infrastructure. The infrastructure is an Artificial Intelligence-driven simulator software that is incorporated into the curriculum to teach, coach and mentor disciplines and to refine business ideas into sustainable business models. It included virtual training of academic staff.

Sponsored by the British Council and the IAU to the value of £100 000, the project is being implemented in partnership with the Manchester Metropolitan University and Snake Nation.

Phase One, for which CPUT received £15 000, started with a hackathon to identify 100 graduates with ideas to address certain problems facing South African Fintech and Government Tech.  The selected graduates had the opportunity to refine these ideas through the simulator and incubation process.

Phase Two, valued at £85 000, will look at monitoring and evaluation. Meanwhile, due diligence between all the stakeholders has been completed and a memorandum of understanding between stakeholders is being concluded.

The project will roll out during 2022, working with ecosystem partner Snake Nation to organise students and graduates to turn ideas and plans that came through hackathon events into sustainable business models and plans.

The curriculum was designed using a relevant portion of accredited certificate courses by the quality council of trade and occupation.

Work continues at CPUT and eight other institutions that received the IAU grant.

Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.