Mauritius is currently going through a phase of transformation from a middle income to a high-income country. How do you think this moment has to be managed in order to keep growing?
In the sixties , an eminent economist, Nobel Prize laureate forecasted that Mauritius had very little prospects for development. This has been proved wrong. Despite our limited natural resources and distance from main markets, we have managed to reach a GDP of USD 9,000 per capita, to develop new sectors of the economy and achieve economic growth steadily, while maintaining the social support programmes. The basis for this success is our strong commitment to education and our investment in our people – who are our most important resource.
Increasing access to education at all levels has been one of our greatest priorities. In 1976, Sir Seewoosagar Ramgoolam, the then Prime Minister introduced free education to one and all and in 2005, Government started providing free transportation for students. In addition, free textbooks are provided in primary schools and special schemes have been implemented for children from vulnerable families. Such investment in education has enabled us to create skills for the different sectors – ICT, manufacturing, tourism and other smaller economic sectors.
It is important to maintain its economic and social development of the country by building on human capacity and skills and promoting innovation. Several studies have proved that there is a strong correlation between higher education and development. Government is now promoting access to quality higher education by opening new opportunities to young people. by decentralizing campus facilities and encouraging lifelong learning. Recently the Mauritius Research Council Act has been amended to foster research and innovation.
The educational sector has evolved strongly and is quite diversified, having now around 74 institutions (public, private and regional), each one with its own specificity and area of study. When did this evolution started and how has it been developing?
As I explained, the Government vision is to develop the country into a knowledge based economy and we want to invest in our people, their skills and competence. In 2010, the Prime Minister, Dr. Navinchandra Ramgoolam set up a separate Ministry dedicated to Higher Education, Science, Research and Technology. Two new public universities were set up in 2012, the Open University and the Université des Mascareignes. Partnerships have been established with reputed universities such as the University of Geneva, Oxford University, Imperial College, ESSEC, ESCP, Science Po, Middlesex University, and University of Lancashire among others. For the first time, an IIT like institution will be established outside India – we are benefiting from the support of the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi. 31 British Universities and institutions are awarding bodies of Mauritian tertiary education institutions. Our enrolment rate has reached 46.6 % in 2012 as compared to 16% in 2000.
I have established fruitful contacts with some of the top ranking universities in UK and USA and partnerships are being established with University of Aberdeen, LSE, UCL, University of Southampton, University of Bristol, George Washington University, University of Delaware and Virginia Tech. Collaborative projects are also being envisaged with Uppsala University, University of Stockholm, and KTH in Sweden.
Mauritius has 1.3 million inhabitants, but we are preparing ourselves for the 700 million plus, mainly from Africa as there is a great mobility in higher education and student demand for higher education in Africa. The number of foreign students in Mauritius is gradually increasing and has almost quadrupled since 2005. Government is offering 50 scholarships annually to African students.
The vision of the ministry is to transform Mauritius into a Knowledge-based Economy by 2022. How do you define this? Which actions are you taking in order to achieve this goal? Which are the main challenges you’ve had to face?
A strategic plan has been developed outlining five major strategic goals –
- Strategic Goal 1- Widening access and ensuring equity
- Strategic Goal 2- Improving Quality and Relevance
- Strategic Goal 3- Internationalisation of Tertiary Education
- Strategic Goal 4- Enhance Research and Innovation
- Strategic Goal 5- Strengthen Governance and Financial Sustainability
Some of the main actions taken by Government are the construction of three modern campuses in three different regions with Government funding, setting up of a centre for big data analysis and nanotechnology, improving quality and relevance of programmes, promoting partnerships with reputed universities and attracting foreign students to pursue their studies in Mauritius.
However like in all new developing sectors, we have had to face a number of challenges such as developing a strong quality assurance mechanism, creating effective linkages with private sector stakeholders to ensure relevance of programmes, regulating the enrolment of international students and establishing mutual recognition of qualifications with other countries. All these are being addressed concurrently.
Contacts have been established with the Quality Assurance Agency of UK, the Council of Private Education of Singapore, the General Medical Council, UK to assist in strengthening our quality framework. Efforts are being made to sign MOU’s with African countries. A MOU has already been signed with Tanzania. All the public tertiary education institutions are required by law to hold consultative meetings with the private sector to review their programmes in relation to labour market requirements.
We live in a time where science, research and technology are evolving rapidly. With such a dynamic environment, what are the existing programs to motivate scientist and researchers in Mauritius to develop new products and services?
Research and innovation are indeed key elements in any knowledge based economy. I have just introduced the Mauritius Research Council Amendment Act which provides for the development of a national research strategy for five years, setting up of a National Research and Innovation advisory committee with international scientists and Nobel Laureates, creating a National Research and Innovation Fund and allowing more flexibility in the ownership of intellectual rights. The Government has allocated Rs 100M for research and innovation in addition to Rs 228 M over five years for the IIT Research academy. Two national research chairs have been set up and two new ones will be established this year. A National best scientist award has been introduced in 2010. A planetarium will be constructed and efforts to sensitize children and the public at large on the importance of science and technology have been ongoing. My ministry and the Mauritius Research Council have also developed a Science, Technology and Innovation Policy and Strategy for Mauritius which will be released shortly.
In terms of education, you have been able to foster strong relations with countries as India, the UK, and have recently re-enforced an agreement with Tanzania. How do you attract those countries to collaborate with Mauritius?
The collaboration is established through bilateral meetings and at regional meetings and conferences. Mauritius is playing a vital role in the African Union and our Prime Minister announced the offer of 50 scholarships at the African Union Summit. The Board of Investment of Mauritius has been carrying out missions to promote and market Mauritius as a centre of knowledge.
The ministry works with the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), whose mission is to position Mauritius in the Region as a world-class Knowledge Hub. What is the linkage between the Ministry and the TEC and which have been the results since its creation, 10 years ago?
The Tertiary Education Commission was created in 1988 – that is 26 years ago. Initially it was set up as an agency to allocate funding to public tertiary education institutions. In 2005, it was given powers to register private tertiary education institutions with the approval of the Minister. In 2007, the powers of the minister were removed from the Act and since then it has the authority to register private tertiary education institutions and to accredit programmes to be offered by these institutions. The Commission has to ensure that institutions satisfy the regulatory framework and the laws of the country and also to monitor compliance with the regulations on a regular basis.
In view of the developments in the higher education sector worldwide, the diversity of institutions and programmes and the experience acquired over the past 25 years, it is considered that a review of the regulatory framework has become expedient in order to address the new issues and challenges in the sector. Government has decided that the Quality Assurance Agency would carry out a review of the sector.
You also have been Minister of Industry, Small and Medium Enterprises, Commerce & Co-operatives (from July 2006 to September 2008) and have experience in education, as professor. When you look back at all those years, what do you feel most proud of?
To build universities in a country is a lifetime chance. With the vision and support of the Prime Minister, Dr. Navinchandra Ramgoolam, I have had the chance to set up two public universities and a Fashion and Design Institute in Mauritius. We are presently in the process of building three university campuses and of establishing IIT in Mauritius. We have set up a school of medicine with Geneva. I think these are unique and wonderful opportunities to provide access to higher education to young people who could not otherwise have even thought of higher studies, to help people realize their dreams.
To conclude this interview, your Excellency, our readers are more interested on the leaders we interview than on the company or institution itself. In that context, what message would you like to send to our worldwide readers of HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW?
Mauritius is a small country with great ambitions. We have a small population but a lot to offer – a multicultural environment, diversity of cultures, traditions and languages, peace and harmony, democracy and good governance. Our resources are our land, sea (2.3 million km2 of exclusive economic zone) and our people. This a country which offers many opportunities to all those working for the progress and growth. I invite you to visit us and share our formidable experience.