Hanze University, UCU innovations reducing  unemployment in Uganda

By John Semakula

After grappling with raising school fees for years, it is every parent’s dream for their son or daughter to find a good job after university graduation. However, with over 53 universities churning out at least 30,000 graduates every year in Uganda’s mainly subsistence economy, this is a pipe dream.

The unemployment rate for Uganda’s post-secondary graduates is 80%, which is one of the highest in the world, according to BrighterMonday, a recruitment and HR platform.

The government’s effort to meet the challenge through startup capital handouts to millions of unemployed youth is far from yielding results. As a result, many unemployed graduates live a desperate life of admiring school dropouts in the informal sector who can put food on the table for their families.

It’s this situation that has brought Uganda Christian University (UCU) and Hanze University of Applied Science in the Netherlands together to find a solution. With support from Hanze University, in 2020, UCU started the School of Business Incubation Hub to offer entrepreneurial training and incubation services to students to counter the high graduate unemployment.

Elsie Nsiyona, the Associate Dean of the UCU School of Business, says the idea of the incubation hub was hatched in 2018 as a maiden step towards the realization of the bigger dream of skilling students.

“This was after we visited Hanze University’s ‘Cube 50’, the equivalent of the UCU School of Business’ Incubation Hub, a center where students’ entrepreneurial skills are guided and nurtured to fruition,” she says.

Armed with the idea of starting something similar to what was in the Netherlands, Nsiyona says they set off by revising the existing entrepreneurship curriculum offered by the then Faculty of Business and Administration at the diploma and degree level to inculcate a more practical element in the reviewed curriculum called “intra-skills training’.

“In line with the new curriculum, in teams of four or five, students are required to generate a business idea to solve a community challenge, work with the market to identify solutions, develop prototypes, and test them with the community and market through exhibitions,” she says.

In 2020, the UCU School of Business had successfully established a Euros14,600 (about sh60m) incubation hub that has since been used to skill dozens of students to use their university education in innovative and practical ways, creating new products.

Since then, the UCU School of Business has not looked back.

According to Florence Wanyenze, the manager at the UCU School of Business, the training given to students at the hub is comprehensive and practical in nature. Besides enabling the learners to develop feasible business ideas that are tested and turned into functional businesses, it also focuses on sustainability.

“The curriculum covers mindset and attitude changes, business idea development, prototype and feasibility checks, plus implementing the business idea based on a business model,” she said.

In the process of revising the curriculum, Nsiyona says they were aware that Uganda ranks among the most enterprising countries, and at the same time, it tops the list of countries whose enterprises collapse before celebrating their first anniversary. This helped them draft a curriculum addressing the challenge.

Stony Aryamanya, a trainer at the hub, noted that the facility has made significant progress in the area of entrepreneurship and the creation of jobs for youth in Uganda.

“We have taught aspiring business owners how to be creative and develop market solutions that address today’s problems,” he said. “We have also assisted these young people in realizing their capacity to create work rather than look for employment.”

Victor Ssenabulya, a third-year student of a Bachelor of Entrepreneurship and Project Planning, is one of the proud beneficiaries. Last year, after attending one of the exhibitions organized by the UCU School of Business Incubation Hub, Ssenabulya started adding value to his rabbit project.

“I had learned that when mixed with manure, the rabbit’s urine could serve as fertilizer,” he said, adding, “That’s how I started making the liquid fertilizers.”

So far, he says, he has sold 500 liters of the fertilizer, mainly to his close family, for Shs10,000 (about USD2.7) per liter. Ssenabulya says his plan is to increase the scale of production of the fertilizer in the near future, especially after school.

Formerly, he only dealt in meat products from the farm at Katabi in Wakiso District, Central Uganda.

Ssenabulya’s success story is just one of the many told at the hub. Such achievements multiply daily because of the eight-year partnership between UCU and Hanze University. In February 2023, the partnership attracted Hanze University President Dick Pouwels to visit UCU. The UCU Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Aaron Mushengyezi, visited Hanze University in mid-April 2022.

During his visit to UCU, Pouwels commended the university administration for the initiative geared towards finding a solution to Uganda’s high graduate unemployment. Pouwels also participated in a number of activities geared towards bolstering students’ innovation, including the unveiling of the proposed structure for the UCU School of Business Incubation Hub at the main campus in Mukono.

He noted that Hanze University had been working with UCU in different fields such as business, engineering, and social sciences for the last eight years and that he felt the commitment to strengthen the partnership even further in a bid to promote original business ideas.

Turning to UCU students, he said it was important for them to just look around and focus on building their talents to come up with new innovations. “Entrepreneurship can be very good where you develop your own talent and strength,” Pouwels said.

In his remarks, UCU’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Mushengyezi, commended the partnership between the two universities and urged his administration to ensure that the projects benefit not only UCU but Uganda in general.

The Dean of the UCU School of Business, Vincent Kisenyi, noted that the proposed structure for the UCU School of Business Hub, which was unveiled, would widen the scope of the university’s operation in training and empowering students, besides creating an avenue for engagement with the outside community.

“We have registered a massive number of students and, as well, have made entrepreneurship a course unit across all the schools,” Kisenyi said. “This means that the space we have at the current hub is not enough, which is why we are collaborating with Hanze University to create more space.”

The move to address graduate unemployment in Uganda through innovations speaks to UCU’s vision of being a center of excellence in the heart of Africa. Already, dozens of UCU students and staff have benefited from the partnership between the two institutions through the exchange program that allows them to go to the Netherlands every year for a study period.