The ambition and the catch
Our President, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, set a pragmatic and common sense tone with her maiden Christmas speech on the youth, education, technology, confidence and belief in self and nation. At the end of last year, the UoM celebrated its 50th anniversary and we have rightly delved back into the remarkable journey covered and past achievements. Here is an institution which could potentially be building the economic, social, technological, humane dreams of the next half-century.
Unfortunately, beyond the self-glorification and platitudes of the Senior Management of UoM, there is little to suggest a vision that might inspire our youth to believe in themselves, the national university or the country. The gap between slogan and reality is impressive. And yet our colonial history, our invaluable ‘parent’ links to a number of African, Asian and European countries, and our geopolitics have set Mauritius up for the challenge of a higher education hub.
The African hotspot
In the near future, Africa will likely be the hotspot in international higher education. With a population of 450 million people, it has 6 of the world’s fastest-growing economies and is conducive to the expansion of global companies. Mauritius could, indeed, leverage on all its assets and set itself up for Higher Education provision for Africa
The different private and foreign institutions based in Mauritius, no doubt, have their own strengths, some are more proactive and innovative than others, and some are closing their doors. One institution that has, however, set itself up as an innovative model from day one is Fred Swaniker’s African Leadership College (ALC), inaugurated by the President of Ghana in Mauritius in August 2015 and operating in partnership with the Glasgow Caledonian University.
We need game changers, not followers
Here is a fundamental game changer that we are not seeing in our local institutions. The ALC pools the best from traditional universities without being bogged down by historical baggage. It proposes front-line pedagogy, and brings together the most competent talent from across the world. The ALC is ahead of the noises for change being heard in British academia and plays to the strengths of connections with key US institutions (Harvard, Stanford, Wharton). It is underpinned by a clear vision of the future of Africa and is attuned to innovation along the lines of Jugaad which is proving to be a powerful tool of transformation in the BRICS.
The strong entrepreneurial culture is a further asset, ‘Our programme infuses entrepreneurial training for all our graduates and has built-in work placements (4 months each year). This will ensure our graduates are more work-ready than traditional universities and, more importantly, that they will be able to create their own jobs,’ asserts Swaniker.
Leveraging on a long term vision and diversity as a smart value
ALC is situated within the grand ambition of creating a phenomenal number of outstanding African leaders for the continent (3 million in 50 years), good and young leadership being the key to tapping into the potential of Africa. Swaniker has also made sure that this is a local project. The Advisory Board is made up of key Mauritian professional figures and has a commitment to engage in local community work. The strategic mix of students is planned at 33% Mauritius students and the rest from Africa and other parts of the world. Here is a commonsensical model which leverages on diversity across gender, ethnicity, class, nationality as a smart value.
The model proposed, when replicated across the African continent, has the potential to redefine the role of Africa in the world and in the global knowledge economy. And Mauritius, by default rather than by virtue of a local visionary, would have been the pivot to make all this happen.
Why the ‘why’ matters most?
What impressed me the most about Swaniker the visionary is the simplicity of the sentiment that underpins a project of this endeavour in time and space, one which will come to fruition and thrive a long time after him. His project is not a dynastic empire to an heir that does not exist, it is a gift. Love is a powerful motivator. He does simply because he loves his continent.
In our peculiar Republic of Monarchs, how much do our flailing kings and would be princes love the rising generation of Mauritians? It’s a measurable sentiment.