Business training and regional universities

A few weeks ago the Stabroek Business reported on an announcement made by Professor Stefan Gift, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Graduate Studies and Research at the University of the West Indies, regarding what he said was the intention of the region’s foremost institution of higher education to push a Caribbean-wide entrepreneurial curriculum with a view to positioning graduates to pursue options to paid employment by establishing businesses of their own. Professor Gift’s announcement had been preceded a short while earlier by the ground-breaking creation of the School of Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation (SEBI) at the University of Guyana, an initiative  that had long been mooted as a means of providing an option to the heavy reliance on one or another form of state employment by UG graduates.

 “I have been asked to take responsibility for spreading the word, moving the organisation such that we develop a one UWI Entrepreneurial Eco system right across the University,” is what Professor Gift was quoted as saying. The pronouncement pointed directly at what appears to be UWI’s intention to use its reach to spread the entrepreneurial word across the Caribbean in much the same way that prior to the setting up of SEBI, the University of Guyana had entered into consultations with experienced private sector functionaries and the various Business Support Organisations (BSO’s) not just to notify them of the initiative but also to involve them in the shaping of the curriculum as well as its delivery, both in the classroom and through practical exposure by attachment to various entities.

As Professor Gift himself put it, the move in the direction of creating business programmes on university campuses across the region very much reflects “the way of the world” and the pattern that is now being embraced by several accredited universities.

What is interesting is that the timing of discourses regarding the infusing of a stronger measure of ‘business studies’ into curricula at universities across the region would appear to suggest that there is occurring, a simultaneous region-wide shift in the thinking at the level of academia regarding the very future of university education, in the context of whether it should remain confined with its traditional intellectual cocoons or whether it should broaden the base of what it offers to respond to global societal circumstances that include the need to explore new vistas of training in order to respond to contemporary societal challenges.

Contextually, what is interesting about UG’s SEBI is that it is structured both to contribute to the university’s conventional diploma and degree-based curriculum regime as well as to respond to what has become the urgent need to provide training for what appears to be a continually growing group of entrepreneurial aspirants whose ambitions, if they are to ‘go all the way,’ must be matched by a fair level of orthodox business training.  That is why the Stabroek Business was particularly pleased to have been invited some months ago to engage with a SEBI class comprising, in large measure, students who, once they were not in the classroom, were mostly involved in running their own businesses. The aim here is not to create a more educated class of vendors, so to speak, but to add dimensions of orthodox entrepreneurship to their various ‘hustles’ in a manner that can result in a transformative effect.

Both UWI and UG are fortunate to have moved in the direction of more strongly infusing business into their respective academic frameworks at a time when the regional Business Support Organisations themselves are beginning to demonstrate an enhanced appreciation of the universities’ role in creating a stronger business community. Here in Guyana, UG Vice Chancellor Ivelaw Griffith has been generous in his praise of the role that the private sector as much as individual private sector functionaries have played in collaborating with UG to help get SEBI ‘on the road,’ so to speak. What this reflects is that over time there has been a shift from the complete dominance of the private sector by the conventional orthodox trader to a mix that now includes businessmen whose training is influenced by the experience of an orthodox academic curriculum. Some of this is beginning to show up in the contributions that are being made by the private sector to the current national discourse on oil and gas and the implications for Guyana’s future.

Beyond that, the extent of the SEBI curriculum acknowledges what it clearly regards as the need to provide training modules that can meet the basic ‘business management’ needs of local small businesses, the numbers of which continue to grow, as well as ordinary vendors. As Vice Chancellor Griffith put it in one of his exchanges with this newspaper “SEBI has been structured to meet the needs of the range of business ambitions” that obtain in Guyana.

One expects that ‘down the road,’ we will witness collaborative initiatives between UG and UWI in curriculum design and delivery some of which may well result in spillovers into actual intra-regional cooperation to raise the level of business proficiency in the region. That could well take us down the path not only to the creation of a new generation of more business-conscious, business-trained Caribbean, but as well, to the emergence of enhanced intra-regional cooperation in both the creation of uniquely regional business models and in a level of business acumen that allows the region to engage the rest of the international business community on a much more level playing field insofar as strategy is concerned.

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