Over the last few years higher education in Mauritius has been plagued by a number of scandals and this is not happy reading especially when we are aspiring to make our island a knowledge hub for higher education in the African region. The magnitudes of these scandals are such that several Committees have been hurriedly set up to investigate the nature of the problems. Hopefully, these Committees will pinpoint what went wrong, why it happened in the first instance and how these kinds of scandals can be avoided in the future. Most importantly, who the culprits are and what actions if any will be taken against them ? Will we be any wiser on the conclusions and recommendations of the various reports or is it another political ploy to fool the public ?
A few months ago the drama unfolded with aspiring doctors being asked to take a preregistration examination without the syllabus being made available to them nor the date of the examination. Out of the first batch who took the examination, three failed, complaining that the papers were too tough and were geared to medical students of India. Following a protest and advice from the State Law Office (Why not the Medical Council which is the regulatory body ?), it was decided to register all these students (including the three who had failed the examination !) with the Medical Council to allow them to practice in Mauritius. This drama was only the beginning.
We now know that DY Patil Medical College whose director is Raj Bappoo (spouse of Sheila Bappoo, Minister of Social Security) has been allowing Post Graduate students to practise in Mauritius when they are not registered with the Medical Council. We are even informed that similar cases were noted previously and the Ministry was informed officially. Did the Ministry take any action ? These unregistered doctors were practising at the Jawaharlall Nehru hospital. Why did the director of the hospital or the Ministry not check their registration with the Medical Council ? How do we know if they have not put patients’ lives at risk ? This is reminiscent of butchers being allowed to perform surgeries on patients. I suppose Mauritius being Mauritius, anything and everything is possible. I seem to recall at the Mauritius Examinations Syndicate some people who did not have a clue about research were promoted to Head of Research with one not even being able to calculate percentages.
The scandal continues. We were recently informed that a Degree in Medicine will be awarded by the University of Technology, Mauritius. How will the UTM award a degree when it does not have a Faculty of Medicine is beyond comprehension ? Without a Faculty and expertise in Medicine, I wonder who was going to devise the syllabus, monitor the progress, assess the performance and do the implementation and evaluation of the courses. How come the Board/Council of UTM agreed to award the medical qualification ? Are the members of Board/Council of UTM not aware that it does not have a Faculty of Medicine ?
The President of the Medical Council is a member of the International Monitoring Committee. It was this Committee which identified a number of weaknesses in the training programmes. It questioned the integrity of the 100% success rates and the fact that external examiners were being selected only from sister companies of DY Patil Medical College. The self-evaluation report provided to the International Monitoring Committee stipulated that the success rate was 100% for the students who had completed the programmes. Given the intricacies of the MS/MD programmes, this data was deemed to be very surprising to the panel and questions were raised regarding the quality of passes.
There are certain rules and regulations to be followed in the appointment of external examiners. In the name of transparency and independence, sister companies are normally not allowed to take part and make final decisions. Having external examiners from sister companies cast doubt on the validity and worth of the degrees awarded. Who agreed to have external examiners from the sister companies ? Didn’t the President of the Medical Council hear alarm bells ringing ? Should he not have informed the Medical Council of these concerns ? Did he and if he did not, why not ? If he did inform the Medical Council, what did the Council do ?    
The Tertiary Education Commission is responsible for the planning, funding and implementing of tertiary education in Mauritius. Its Director is also the President of the International Monitoring Committee. He was fully aware of the weaknesses at the DY Medical College. Why did he not take any action ? The Board of the Tertiary Education Commission has set up a Fact Finding Committee to be chaired by a retired judge (why a judge and not anyone qualified in this field in not clear) of the Supreme Court. The Tertiary Education Commission wants answers within 15 days. Whether it will get the required answers within such a short time remains to be seen. It’s certainly a tall order. The request was made last week and as up to now, the identity of the Chairman and the Terms of Reference are still not known. From my calculation, the judge will have just a few days to investigate and report the findings.
This latest scandal involving so many institutions and high profile personalities would make a block buster movie worthy of several Oscar nominations. Pity this year’s gongs have already been handed on Monday. Our paradise island would have ended up with several of these awards.
With the latest scandal unfolding at such a rapid pace and various investigations (CCID and ICAC) and Fact Finding Committees hurriedly set up I wonder where the axe will fall.
• Will it be on the three ministers concerned ? The Ministry of Health was aware that unregistered doctors were practising at the Jawaharlall Nehru hospital. It was officially informed.
Will it be on the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Science, Research & Technology for allowing DY Patil Medical College to provide courses when there were many concerns about lack of resources and the validity of its courses ? In such cases in the United Kingdom, Ministers and their seniors do the decent thing and resign with immediate effect. They don’t wait to be summoned by the Prime Minister to be informed that they have been discharged of their responsibilities.
Will it be on the Tertiary Education Commission ? Its Director without any regulatory expertise is the President of the International Monitoring Committee and he was made aware of the weaknesses. Why did he not take any sanction against the Medical College ? What prevented him from doing so ? Was it for some political reason ?
• Will it be on the President of the Medical Council ? As a member of the International Monitoring Committee, having been made aware of the training programmes and the use of external examiners from sister companies, how come he did not pick these worrying signals ? Was he instructed to turn a blind eye by a certain high profile politician’s husband ?
• Will it be on the University of Technology, Mauritius ? It does not matter whether the Memorandum of Understanding from UTM has been adhered or not by DY Patil Medical college. The fact of the matter is if an institution does not have a Faculty of Medicine, it cannot award a Medical degree.
But the question is of course, will the axe fall at all ?
The decision will come from the powers to be. For the sake of the island’s credibility as a knowledge hub around Africa and the rest of world, the students and their parents who have spent millions to make their children professionally literate, let’s hope common sense will prevail and those responsible (whatever the number and whoever they are, irrespective of their caste and political allegiance), are quickly shown the exit door.
It’s an opportunity for the Prime Minister to show that he means business. Let’s wait and see what the Prime Minister is made of. All will be revealed very soon.