According to Pakistan Economic Survey 2021-22, the unemployment rate in the country is 6.3 percent. Unemployment is a driving force behind the social unrest, rising crime rate, mental health issues and even terrorist activities in the state. The unemployment rate of the graduates is comparatively higher than the national average, which is expected to rise more in the coming years. The major reasons for this high unemployment rate are related to the structure of the industry and the limited number of jobs that these companies can provide to the graduates. Apart from such a general lack of available jobs, university graduates are also facing a skills gap, where jobs that match their competencies are missing as well.
Moreover, Pakistan needs a sustained 7-8 percent growth rate in the GDP or more to drag itself out of the existing deteriorating conditions. The country’s focus should be on innovation-based growth to achieve the objective of high growth trajectory as innovation and entrepreneurship are believed to be the key drivers for the growth. Therefore, there is a dire need of transforming academic knowledge into entrepreneurship by systematically supporting entrepreneurial activities of students and graduates in order to create jobs for not only themselves, but others as well.
The government of Pakistan has realized that increasing the linkages between universities and industry could boost this potential and encourages and supports the establishment of such links (Vision Pakistan 2025).
The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has also realized the need for entrepreneurial activities that could create viable businesses and therefore lead to an employment opportunity for graduates as well generate jobs. To support the entrepreneurial spirit in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), the HEC has started supporting universities in establishing of business incubation centres (BIC), in which early stage business ideas are to be selected to assist young entrepreneurs to transform them to successful entrepreneurial endeavours. So far, the HEC has established as many as 30 BICs across the country. Further, the Government has started different programmes for improving employment opportunities for youth such as “Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme” and “Hunermand Programme Skills for All”.
Being an important economic partner of Pakistan, the EU is also carrying out a project titled “Transforming Academic Knowledge to Develop Entrepreneurial Universities in Pakistan (TAKE-UP)” in an attempt to transform academic knowledge into entrepreneurship. Total volume of the project is € 1.0 million. This EU-funded TAKE-UP project has been awarded to the consortium of six universities, including University of Gujrat (UOG) along with Universität des Saarlandes (UDS), Saarbrücken, Germany, Athens University of Business and Economics (AUEB), Greece, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Lahore, Comsats Lahore and Government College University (GCU), Lahore.
The project has been divided into ten work packages (WPs), titled ‘kick-off and self-assessment’, ‘strategic action planning’, ‘establishing of fablabs’, ‘development of training and teaching material on entrepreneurial skills’, ‘professionalizing entrepreneurial coaching‘, ‘training and certifying entrepreneurial coaches (Train-the-Trainer)’, ‘development of a TAKE-UP network’, ‘dissemination, visibility and exploitation’, ‘quality management’ and ‘project management’. In University of Gujrat, the BIC is carrying out the project in collaboration with Office of Research, Innovation and Commercialization (ORIC) and faculty members of the Department of Management Sciences, Department of Biochemistry and the Department of Chemical Engineering. Seven members of the staff from the university have visited entrepreneurial universities of Europe so far.
After 360° assessment of the entrepreneurial culture and development of strategic action plans in the University of Gujrat, a training on “International Entrepreneurial Course 101” has already been developed. The course comprises four modules in 13 sessions. This course has been offered twice to the students. The course has been conducted jointly by the staff of Saarland University, Germany and the University of Gujrat.
The TAKE-UP aims at uplifting the potential of Pakistani HEIs in the area of entrepreneurial culture, especially the development of entrepreneurial skills in students by improving the coaching process of students, researchers, and alumni with strong entrepreneurial intentions.
Dr Khalid Iqbal and Dr Tahir Rashid
*The authors work for the Office of Research, Innovation and
Commercialization (ORIC) of University of Gujrat (UOG), Pakistan.