Birzeit heads joint multinational effort to promote entrepreneurship in education

Palestinian and international innovation and development experts, professors, and consultants convened at Birzeit University to discuss the best methods for integrating entrepreneurship into academic contexts at the “Fostering Entrepreneurship in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Conference,” on Wednesday, September 26, 2018. 

Organized by the Faculty of Engineering and Technology and the Faculty of Science at Birzeit, the EU-funded conference was the result of a joint effort by Birzeit University, Palestine Polytechnic University, Palestine Technical University - Kadoorie, and the Islamic University of Gaza, in addition to a number of German, British, and Dutch universities. The Higher Council for Innovation and Excellence and Leaders International also supported the conference. 

President of Birzeit University Dr. Abdullatif Abuhijleh, in his welcoming remarks, noted the global trend toward innovation and entrepreneurship in education, which helps the economy grow and decreases unemployment, and highlighted the university’s push in that direction.

“Birzeit University supports initiatives that allow students to innovate in their environments and learn the skills necessary for the job market,” said Abuhijleh. “The university prides itself on shaping graduates who bring creative ideas into the classroom and beyond, such that they not only excel in their jobs, but also establish pioneering initiatives that benefit them and their communities.” 

Abuhijleh drew attention to two programs adopted by Birzeit University that help push its entrepreneurial vision forward: The Business Hub, and the Leadership and Active Citizenship Program - Masari. The Business Hub, he explained, “is a creative space designed to nurture innovators and support new start-ups - as well as extant businesses.”

Masari, Abuhijleh commented, guides students through three stages, the third of which revolves around social entrepreneurship. These stages allow students to build on their existing capacities and develop new ones, which in turn can help them design and carry out community-drive initiatives. 

Palestinian Minister of Education Dr. Sabri Saidam stressed the significance of entrepreneurship, innovation, and scientific research, highlighting the ministry’s efforts in securing 20 million shekels in funding for research efforts in Palestinian universities. 

Saidam also underscored the importance of incubating initiatives and supporting young entrepreneurs, pointing to a recently-signed agreement through which the ministry would provide support for young Palestinian entrepreneurs in Jerusalem. 

President of the Higher Council for Innovation and Excellence Adnan Samarah said that a large number of Palestinian youth have incorporated entrepreneurship into their everyday lives, which helps them to address problems and challenges from a unique, solution-oriented perspective. 

Samarah, noting the impact of entrepreneurship training in schools and universities, called for more innovation-driven programs and pedagogical styles that are characterized by discussion, teamwork, and creative thinking. 

Dr. Pernille Bjørn, a professor of computer science at the University of Copenhagen, gave a speech on behalf of the conference’s European partners and attendees, in which she emphasized the entrepreneurial opportunities in the Arab region, giving the IT sector as an example, and noted the continued support of the EU through Erasmus+ for the modernization of the educational system. 

The conference comprised three sessions. The first featured Vice President for Administrative and Financial Affairs at Birzeit University Dr. Mirvat Bulbul, who discussed the opportunities and challenges of developing an “Entrepreneurial and Intrapreneurial Ecosystem in Birzeit University”; Dr. Josette Dijkhuizen, an honorary professor of entrepreneurship development at Maastricht School of Management, who explored the “Entrepreneurial Mindset in a Changing World”; and Dr. Simon Best, a senior management lecturer at Middlesex University, who shared his view of the “Key Entrepreneurial Skills.” 

The second session, entitled “Startups Ecosystem Landscape,” featured Dr. Nina Boulus-Rødje, a professor in the Department of People and Technology at Roskilde University, who reviewed the challenges facing entrepreneurs in Palestine in “Infrastructural Inaccessibility: Tech Entrepreneurs in Occupied Palestine”; Tareq Touqan, managing partner at Equity Legal Group, whose presentation focused on the “Legal and Regulatory Environment for Entrepreneurship in Palestine”; and Hijazi Natsheh, head of startup growth at Leaders Organization, who discussed the role of public-private relationships in entrepreneurship in “Towards Entrepreneurship Society: Public-Private Partnership.” 

The final session of the conference, “Integrating Entrepreneurship in Curriculum and Best Practices,” saw Bjørn discuss previous experiences in fusing entrepreneurship with education in “Makerspace Methodologies: Experiences on Integrating Entrepreneurship Education into STEM Education”; Dr. George Dafoulas, an associate professor of computer science at Middlesex University, who reviewed “Integrating Entrepreneurship in the Curriculum”; Marios Mouratidis, coordinator of the Yallah Project at the University of Siegen, who gave a presentation on the significance of open maker-spaces in “YALLAH!: Why Open-Access Makerspaces Matter”; and Dr. Iyad Tumar, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Birzeit University, who gave the conference’s closing remarks and recommendations.