A lot of debate recently took place concerning the setting up of the new “Université des Mascareignes” positioned as the third public university that Mauritius aims at having in the near future.  Arguments favoured by the Ministry of Tertiary Education focused on the need to broaden tertiary education perspectives for Mauritian students with a view to having “one graduate per family”, the slogan run by the government so far.  It meant democratising access to higher level education to a larger number of students who, previously, were denied from such an opportunity owing to highly selective admission requirements actually afforded by the two existing public universities, the University of Mauritius (UOM) and the University of Technology, Mauritius (UTM)
It was obvious that opposing voices could be heard namely heated arguments relating to quantity to quality of education, the validity of additional universities or simply, the raison d’être of a third public University.  It was clear that the mission of promoting an existing higher level polytechnic institute to a University status would be considered as a matter worth discussing in the Assembly and related spheres of higher level education.
Status of new Universities
The first argument stands as the need for a public University.  Obviously, in a country that promotes an academic style of learning and the need for elitist education, a University status poses as the “icing on the cake” for higher level education.  At lower levels, institutions could be named polytechnics, college or simply schools.
The change in status of highly aspiring polytechnics to University grade is a phenomenon that is already in process in the United Kingdom where the Department of Education decided to level tertiary education at a single or harmonised point.  The British counterparts found out in the 1990s that polytechnics were offering professional courses deemed equivalent to a University status.  Acknowledging that such courses prompted professional graduates to enter the Master’s level (Level 7 in the National Qualifications Framework), the British government accepted to raise such standards and broaden the portfolio of Institutes of Higher Learning to that of new Universities.
The Mauritian case
In the Mauritian context, two fundamental issues have been developed.  Firstly, in the second Ramgoolam mandate (since 2005), there was the creation of the Ministry of Tertiary Education.  To activate the tertiary educational system, it became fundamental to broaden the tertiary concept by accommodating successful higher level institutions.  Incidentally, Swami Dayanand Institute of Management with its sister organisation, Institut Supérieur de Technologie (IST) stood up as showcases for tertiary educational advancement.  With deeply-rooted values in high level technical education and academia, these institutions could be easily scaled up as their UK counterparts and logically follow the process of conversion to University status.
The second argument comes from the access and democratisation process of tertiary education.  For example, rural areas are, so far, technically barred from accommodating Universities apart from Secondary Schools.  Taking into consideration that rural settings are now narrowing the gap in terms of living and educational standards, there is apparently a good reason to look for development within existing structures and transform them into Universities.  The point here is not to transform secondary schools or Vocational Training Institutions into universities.
The foundation of Incremental Learning
Academics, both defenders and opponents to the University status, should bear in mind that all organisations go through the learning curve to maximise their long-term effectiveness.  The argument of cost-benefit does not exist because through incremental learning (Quinn’s theory), organisations develop capabilities and competences while they progress towards better effectiveness with time.  With already 17 years of existence of the SDIM, the learning curve has been fully served.  Staff have improved their qualifications up to Master’s level and soon attaining Doctorate status (on their own) while at the same time, most of the students enter systematically the top-up undergraduate programmes of both public and private universities.  Through incremental learning theory, it can be supported that SDIM/IST Lecturers fulfil the criteria of teaching at least up to degree level.  This understates the longer-term viability of such existing Institutes to be conferred a University status.
On Collaborative Competences
Contesting that new universities will be basically an accommodation of quantity to quality looks to be a dumbfounded and biased opinion.  SDIM and IST have, since their inception, worked closely with foreign institutions that have collaborated in staff development, quality assurance and the competency creation.  Singapore Polytechnic, Challenger TAFE (Australia) and Université de Limoges (France) are educational triads stemming from three nations boasting global accreditation in teaching quality, academia and experience.  These collaborations have leveraged lecturer’s competences with demanding syllabi that favour precise learning outcomes to broad-based academic learning.  Although the learning structure will have to be changed soon, the quality rigour has never been dismissed.
Upgrading Staff Status
The coming up of a new university under the appellation of “Université des Mascareignes” additionally addresses the question of upgrading both academic and technical staff status.  The Pillai Consultancy1 (1991) supported that lecturer position had to be created in view of launching higher technical education.  Apparently, the Consultant projected on a five-year term, some 50 staff with a stratum of grades like Principal Lecturer, Associate Principal Lecturer, and so on.  After 17 years, the report forecasts look moribund since the Institutes rocked in tumultuous waves like downgrading their status, converting to TVET or IVET (lower technical colleges), restructuring or reframing.  At the same time, academic staff has challenged the curse of being left out by personally developing their competences, seeking teaching opportunities in Universities.  With the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) opening up in 2010 to such institutes, academic staff has successfully participated in national and international Conferences with successful acceptance of papers both for presentation and publication.  It is the onus of higher instances like the Ministry of Tertiary Education or the Pay Research Bureau (PRB) to see how injustices in staff upgrading, dismissed since long, could be repaired.  A new tertiary institution deserves this since the Pillai Report purported the survival of new Institutes thorough reasonable staff development and hierarchy.  In 2012, a lean structure still lays down but, now, the vision calls for joining the university bandwagon.  Could Pillai’s vision be reinvented under a new coating, that of a new University?