TEC TICKING: A vision paper for higher education in Mauritius

The Tertiary Education Commission has been at the centre of a number of controversies over the past 3 years which has resulted in bad press. And yet it is a key player in the development of the country. If I had to reimagine the role of the TEC in the 21st Century, I would be boldly ambitious.
In the global information economy, higher education is becoming both a valuable service and a tradable commodity amongst nations. The TEC’s current vision and mission, situated in global trends, to turn Mauritius into an Intelligent Island and a world-class knowledge hub are commendable ambitions. But this will not happen unless, in the first place, two additional steps are integrated to create and sustain the conditions for a world-leading higher education system.
I envision deep reform in higher education in Mauritius in 3 waves:
(A) Establish building blocks of transformation
(B) Introduce structural improvements to accelerate change
(C) Strengthen the regional and global prominence of Mauritius’s higher education system.
I propose 12 recommendations spanning the 3 waves identified above to create a strategy for the higher education activities of Mauritius for the next five years and beyond.

A
(1) Quality of the graduates and institutions. Making tough decisions when needed in relation to fragile and problematic institutions will ensure a higher quality of outcomes. We need an urgent uphauling of our existing tertiary institutions to meet international benchmarks in terms of the quality of the teaching provision as well as the research output.
(2) Devise an efficient framework of teaching offerings across local and foreign institutions that are complementary. This would in turn encourage collaboration  and an optimisation of existing and incoming resources across institutions rather than unnecessary competition in a small and saturated market. The latter is currently the case.
(3) Encourage the delivery of entrepreneurship components at all levels of higher education to change the mind-set of our graduates from job-seekers to job-creators.
(4) Build the capacity and capabilities of the existing local institutions to improve the readiness level of our graduates for the job market. Develop links with industry, the private sector, the public sector and NGOs and make education directly relevant to the world of work and entrepreneurship.
(5) An international knowledge hub will remain a slogan until we invest in research and increase productivity in terms of publications, research development, links with industry. Collaborative research projects across institutions would need to be facilitated through a more proactive Mauritius Research Council. The foreign universities that set up here need to bring value added to Mauritius at all levels including their research expertise. Identifying with key stakeholders areas of research that Mauritius would depend on for the next ten years and giving priority to those would be an important pre-requisite.

B
(6) Encourage public institutions to reduce their dependence on Government resources by focusing more on monetising assets, research and development with industry, obtaining endowments from alumni.
(7) Democratise access to tertiary education through technology and create a nation of lifelong learners. Devise a Smart Campus, in line with the Smart Mauritius project of the Government, to reduce the cost of higher education, increase access to a wider group of students while maintaining standards.
(8) Develop new knowledge on home ground through teaching and research. The internationalisation of education necessarily means the internationalisation of the curriculum. Local input developed to support internationalised curriculum should be harvested and diffused to the international community.
(9) The onus, today, is on universities to create the conditions for innovation to happen. It is high time we created a community of practice around innovation in Mauritius across national institutions, foreign ones and private ones. An innovation academy would act as an incubator for students across all existing institutions encouraging them to plan and develop products and businesses and seek external funding.

C
(10) International Relationship building. Over and above our existing relations with the UK and France, we need to develop stronger links with the BRICS which are investing massively in higher education and where some of the most interesting transformations in higher education are taking place. We should build on our existing links with COI, IOR-ARC, Commonwealth, Francophonie, COMESA, SADC to facilitate student and teaching exchanges as well as collaborative research. We will also benefit from linking up with strategic and leading partners in innovation in higher education such as the Think Tank, Observatory for Borderless Higher Education.
(11) One approach to boost reputation is to appoint or host a few big name academics from overseas even if this is on a one-semester or one-year research leave basis.
(12) Overseas students boost universities’ global links. Provide incentives to attract foreign and, in particular African students, on whom foreign establishments are dependent, to come to Mauritius. Mauritius could leverage on its regional and international connections to host international doctoral candidates. The presence of international students would offer local students a breadth of cultural knowledge. We should also highlight the development of intercultural competence in our graduates as a valuable asset since it is an important transferable skill that enhances a student’s employability on the global market.

Conclusion
An ambitious TEC would not only provide a national voice on higher education, inform Government decision-making and policy but it would influence the wider higher education debate. We have a richness of ingredients in the internationally benchmarked tertiary institutions in Mauritius and with Medine’s growing Education Village, we should be contributing to the world-wide debate on higher education.