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The Offices of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC): Research, Innovation and Engagement and the Director: Research and Postgraduate Support held a webinar pertaining to the theme: Building a Thriving Innovation Ecosystem while Cultivating Entrepreneurial Culture at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) and the role of the Research Office, on 10 September 2020, via MS Teams.   

DUT’s DVC of Research, Innovation and Engagement, Professor Sibusiso Moyo started the session focusing on how to build a thriving entrepreneurial culture at DUT, and also saying thank you to all as DUT is doing such sterling work in terms of research.  

Congratulations are in order to all of you since DUT got ranked within the Times Higher Education which is a big thing for DUT, so I wanted to thank you and also look at how DUT can use research in terms of contributing towards the innovation cycle and commercialisation cycle,” she said.  Prof Moyo spoke on good practices in developing entrepreneurial ecosystems within the DUT contextual setting in terms of where the institution is, what are the strengths of the university are with regard to research and innovation.  

She also concentrated on the need to deal with elements that comprise an entrepreneurship ecosystem, key challenges and actions, as well the potential avenues for collaboration between South Africa, other African universities, internal departments and faculties that might enhance the development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem within KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). “We don’t collaborate amongst ourselves, so before we collaborate with other universities, or nationally, we need to strengthen internal collaboration,” she said.  

She further defined more on the meaning of an Innovation Ecosystem, explaining that it is a group of organisations united for the sole purpose of creating amazing innovation that makes an impact. “These include entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, university faculty, venture capitalists as well as business development and other technical service providers such as accountants, designers, contract manufacturers and providers of skills training and professional development,” she said.  

Prof Moyo stressed that there is a vital need to develop entrepreneurial universities, i.e. creating a conducive environment that will enable universities to adapt strategically and embark on projects whereby third-stream income can be generated through innovative business ideas. “The key things are contextual settings and taking into account strengths of the regional economies, industries and community needs. Curriculum design and innovation to support skills training to deal with socio-economic challenges and ability for staff/students/alumni to be engaged with immediate societal needs. Effective partnerships for entrepreneurial development and product development to deal with incubation spaces, mentorship, support, e.g. DUT and the Ithala Development Finance Corporation (IDFC) agreement to support start-ups that have,” she said.  

Ms Vaneshree Govender Manager (Acting): Research and Postgraduate Support emphasised more on building a thriving innovation ecosystem while cultivating entrepreneurial culture at DUT. “In South Africa, only 13% of graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields are women, despite South Africa being ranked 19th out of 144 countries in the 2018 Global Gender Gap Report. South Africa currently has a critical skills shortage and the key to resolving this is to ensure that the country is geared up for the digital age and increasing the number of women educated and employed in academic space. Without intervention, the transformation of the professoriate will take an unacceptably long time. This requires national and institutional intervention,” she said.  

She stressed that the proposed solution is to empower the women researchers base throughout the different disciplines at DUT; to become leaders and role models for younger generation of women researchers, and to boost the research outputs for women at DUT. Govender said that the objectives are to provide resources in the form of grants i.e., research project grants, sabbatical grants and mobility grants. “To provide mentorship, offer women researchers opportunities to explore their research areas on national and international platforms, as well as special programmes for women to help them publish articles. The expected outcomes are to fast-track qualification of female researchers (PhD/MSc), publicise research findings in DHET accredited journals; books or book chapters and /or translating research knowledge into SMME’s. To look at presentations to be held at conferences/symposiums for novice female researchers,” she said.  

She indicated the eligibility criteria is that it’s open to female researchers only, which entails permanent staff members and non-permanent staff members.  In terms of the application process, Govender said it is an online process. “A funding call will be released to the DUT community in October 2020. Applicants will need to supply an outline of the research project and an action plan. The funding cycle will be for 12 months and renewal of funding will be based on a submission of an annual progress report,” she said.  

The last speaker of the webinar was Dr Ncumisa Mpongwana, a Research Associate: Research and Postgraduate Support, who focused on one of a range of strategies used by HEIs to boost publication outputs which is a writing and publishing retreat.   

“The immediate drivers to increase publication outputs in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) requirements and performance expectations. Writing retreats are one of a range of strategies used by Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to boost publication outputs,” she said. She also spoke on the research barriers experienced by academics at South African universities. She indicated that some of the issues highlighted as research barriers were researchers not having enough time for research, researchers having heavy administrative loads, lack of money for research activities, and post-graduate students who were not ready for post grad studies, to name a few.   

Dr Mpongwana’s proposed solutions are to create a multidisciplinary community of writers who would provide support and advice our researchers. “To also create an enabling environment for researchers to write and publish research articles; help participants to learn from each other about the process of writing; and to publish research articles and boost research outputs,” she said. She also proposed the idea of a five-day retreat from 24 October 2020.  

Pictured: DUT’s Prof Sibusiso Moyo starts the session focusing on how to build a thriving entrepreneurial culture at DUT.

Waheeda Peters

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