Becoming a magnet for knowledge

Tom Minney

Building on its strong educational tradition and its reputation as an ICT centre of excellence, Mauritius hopes to attract more overseas students and to forge links with some established universities.

The bronze statue facing Port Louis, with its back to the harbour, is of the ‘father of the nation’, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, in his characteristic spectacles and with book in hand. A qualified medical prac­titioner and a lover of literature, Sir See­woosagur led Mauritius to independence and his memorial continues to underline the importance Mauritians place on education.

In Mauritian culture, professions such as doctor, lawyer or teacher are revered. The phrase ‘knowledge island’ has been a politi­cal slogan and is now government policy. Mauritius has put a high premium on edu­cating its own children, but now it is seek­ing not only to bring students from further afield, but also to position itself as a key junction on the information superhighways of the world, acting as a centre for informa­tion and communication technology (ICT) expertise.

Schooling is compulsory until the age of 16; primary and secondary education have been free since 1976, and tertiary free since 1988. Government funding for education has been consistent even when budgets have been stretched.

Although most Mauritians speak a form of Creole based on French, schools also teach in English and French and both lan­guages are compulsory in all schools. Learning some of the ancestral languages – such as Arabic, Bhojpuri, Cantonese, Hakka, Hindi, Mandarin, Marathi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu – is optional, but out of 5,627 primary teachers counted in March 2011, as many as 1,350 taught ori­ental languages.

The most prominent state tertiary institu­tions are the University of Mauritius, the University of Technology and the Mauri­tius Institute of Education. There are also an estimated 35 private institutions, with 50 overseas institutions offering specialised courses, some of which are part-time. New campuses are being built and the two poly­technics are currently being merged into a new university.

The Ministry of Tertiary Education, Sci­ence, Research and Technology was set up to advance Mauritius as a knowledge hub, and its minister, Rajesh Jeetah, recently noted, “With the collaboration of Enter­prise Mauritius, we have fielded missions to India, Tanzania and Kenya to attract for­eign students.” Other steps include a new student visa system, agreements to recog­nise other countries’ qualifications, an on­line library and funding for research.

Several international universities have set up campuses in Mauritius. Accord­ing to the minister, “Our multilingualism, multiculturalism and the hospitality of our people can facilitate the integration and adaptation of foreign students to the lo­cal culture.” Another helpful factor is that Mauritius can offer a UK university degree, at a lower cost than in the UK, or an in­ternational medical degree (MBBS) with clinical experience undertaken locally. The ambitious target is to have 100,000 foreign students by 2020, which could contribute about 10 percent of the country’s GDP.

If knowledge is the competitive advan­tage of the 21st century, Mauritius wants its people to be in the fast lane. Supporting this is the ICT sector, which already contributed 6 percent of GDP in 2010, with some 300 foreign investors. Between 2007 and 2009, the number of broadband customers nearly tripled from 61,000 to 175,000, and in 2010 Internet users were put at 322,232, or near­ly one in four of the population. ICT will benefit from a new Cybercity taking shape at Ebene, 15 km south of the capital, Port Louis, and a second subsea telecoms cable helping to promote call centres, IT out­sourcing, data centres and other services.

About the author:

Tom Minney is an economist specialising in Southern Africa


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