Economy ExpertSpeak: Mauritius must not chase ‘oiseaux de passage’ in tertiary education
Professor Eric Charoux, executive director at the Charles Telfair Institute (CTI), observed that the government must take note of those institutions that have shown long-term commitment to education in this country. (Image: CTI)
Professor Eric Charoux, executive director at the Charles Telfair Institute (CTI), spoke to AfricaMoney of how countries with strong human capital experience invariably rapid economic growth and development. Our higher education expert also commented that the government must take note of those institutions that have shown long-term commitment to education in this country, instead of chasing after all sorts of ‘oiseaux de passage’.
Edited excerpts from an interview:
What have been the major achievements of CTI in 2013?
First of all, we grew our student population to reach the 1,600 mark, making us by far the biggest private tertiary education institution in this country. Secondly, we systematically implemented our total quality drive, known as “Zero Defect”. Thirdly, CTI undertook the smooth restructuring of its shareholder base including the arrival of a committed and passionate majority shareholder, the Food and Allied Group. Our fourth noteworthy achievement was the receipt of various awards from both our academic partners and independent bodies in recognition of our achievements to date. Another significant milestone for CTI was that our Curtin University students studying on the CTI campus in Moka performed better than those on the main Campus located in Perth, Australia. Finally, the definite progress we made towards meeting the TEC requirements to obtain degree-awarding powers also marked a significant step foward in 2013.
What are the major challenges faced by the higher education sector in Mauritius?
The goal of becoming a strong, vibrant sector of the economy engaged in fundamental and development-oriented research, capacity building, teaching, community outreach and enrichment services, is not to be underestimated. The challenges are immense and will require the active participation of all players.
In addition, concrete and active steps such as putting one’s own house in order and stopping once and for all the endless scandals currently rocking this sector, are of course primordial. We need to emphasize quality rather than chasing after numbers. It’s not the number of foreign universities operating in Mauritius which matter – but the quality and relevance of their offerings.
In the context of certain educational institutes from India operating in Mauritius and discovered to have been unauthorized, what are some of the precautions that could be taken to prevent the recurrence of such incidents?
First of all, reforming the governance of regulatory bodies such as the TEC and MQA to ensure the avoidance of political interference is a must to prevent the recurrence of such incidents. Secondly, it is important to engage in tighter screening of the track record of international institutions who want to operate in Mauritius as well as the track record or their local partners and local management teams.
What are your projects for the year 2014?
First up is the establishment of our Africa office – a centre dedicated entirely to the recruitment of African and Indian Ocean students. Secondly, we intend to register as this country’s first private university. A third development we are looking forward to the launch of several new undergraduate and postgraduate courses. A fourth project we are keen on is the construction of private residences in the Moka region. A fifth one is the revamping and re-launch of our Leadership Development Centre. Finally, the strengthening of our internal procedures in line with our ongoing quality drive initiatives is another project that we intend to execute in 2014.
With the growing number of universities opening in Mauritius and most recently, the Aberystwyth University declaring intent to open a campus in Mauritius soon, how is CTI distinguishing itself from the other Universities?
CTI sets itself apart through its emphasis on quality and innovation. Australian education is a world-class product greatly prized by employers. Add to this fact our determination to offer an outstanding quality service and you have the secret of our continued success in this country.
With our strong academic partners, ultra-modern campus, strong links with local industry, emphasis on quality and relatively flat organization structure which facilitates flexible decision making, we believe that we shall always have an edge over our competitors.
Do you think that Mauritius has the potential to become a centre of learning and research? In your view, what are some of the steps that could be taken towards the same?
Throughout the world, it is a recognized fact that you don’t build a university from scratch in less than 50 years. Similarly you do not build a truly valid knowledge hub by simply declaring it government policy. It takes years of slow, patient and hard work. Having said this, there are many steps that can be taken ranging from a more coherent policy and strategy, to the introduction of incentive measures designed to professionalize and render attractive the sector’s functioning. And, above all, of course, we must have an insistence on offering quality, and only quality, education. The government needs to become acutely aware of those public and private players who have shown long-term commitment to education in this country – instead of chasing after all sorts of ‘oiseaux de passage’ (birds of passage) and creating a huge portfolio of new public institutions around the island.
According to you, what impact could an educational hub have on the Mauritian economy?
A tremendous impact – as has been the case overseas. There is plenty of research which indicates that countries with strong human capital experience invariably rapid economic growth and development. It would become our most important tool for developing the necessary knowledge and skills for our long-term socio-economic development. In addition, it would stop the current ‘brain drain’ and encourage graduates to return home once their studies or specializations abroad are completed. We could thus be witnessing not only an influx of foreign currency earnings as international students flock to our shores but the start of a long-term process designed to help Mauritius become a high income economy.
Finally, what are your views on the way forward for the Mauritian economy?
The traditional pillars have served us well for several decades after independence. We have in recent years started building new pillars and we need to be more proactive in our strategy aiming at developing a more diversified economic base. We badly need to look at the various infrastructural bottlenecks, the quality and price of ICT and a revised trade & investment approach with Asia and Africa.