MAURITIUS: Minister sets out ambitious plans

Rajesh Jeetah, the minister responsible for higher education in Mauritius, has spelt out ambitious plans for the next few years. They include raising the student enrolment rate to 70% - more than four times the participation rate of any other Sub-Saharan Africa country - increasing the number of foreigners studying in the country and building a new campus at Réduit. He also intends to lengthen the opening hours of the University of Mauritius.

At a conference organised by the Tertiary Education Commission last month Jeetah talked about his objectives for higher education to turn Mauritius into a 'knowledge hub', reported L'Express of Port Louis.

Every Mauritian family should be able to boast at least one graduate by 2015, he said. Expanding on his plans, he proposed to increase the tertiary enrolment rate from the present 43% to 70% over the next five years and for 100,000 foreign students to have studied in Mauritian higher education by 2020.

At the same time, it would be necessary to create 10,000 jobs in the sector, said Jeetah.

An enrolment rate of 70% would be an extraordinary achievement for an African country. In March, the Minister of Education, Culture and Human Resources Dr Vasant K Bunwaree said tertiary education enrolment in Mauritius had more than doubled in the past decade, from around 16,700 in 2000 to more than 42,200 in 2009.

The gross tertiary enrolment rate - the proportion of all people aged 20-24 pursuing tertiary education - had "shot up from 15% in 2000 to 45% in 2009 and we would like this rate to be about the same as in developed countries".

Jeetah told the TEC conference the state would spend 600 million rupees (US$19 million) on constructing a new university campus at Réduit to accommodate 8,000 students, said L'Express.

Previously, in an interview with the Mauritian online publication Défi Media, Jeetah said it would be necessary to create the infrastructure to receive foreign students "to enrich our tertiary system in Mauritius".

Government funding for infrastructure had risen to 4.5 billion rupees (US$145.5 million) for public and private institutions, he said.

As well as the planned Réduit campus he raised with Défi Media the possibility of building a new university at Montagne-Blanche, or elsewhere on the island.

Under plans to attract the 100,000 students from abroad in the next decade, L'Express reported Jeetah's Ministry of Tertiary Education, Science, Research and Technology would relax procedures for visa applications and work permits for foreign students, and ease formalities for foreign higher education institutions that wanted to open branches in Mauritius.

Campaigns would be organised abroad at international education fairs to promote Mauritian higher education.

Jeetah also told the conference legislation was completed for the Mauritian Open University and the institution would be operating before the end of the year.

Speaking at another session, Jeetah said he intended the University of Mauritius to stay open until 10pm and offer courses in the evenings.

L'Express reported the university was open weekdays from 9am to 4pm and closed at weekends except for the library which was open until noon on Saturdays.

"Universities abroad never close at 4pm. They are live places all the time," said Jeetah who, reported L'Express, had studied in England.

The new arrangement would be launched as a pilot when conditions such as security, transport, the willingness of lecturers to work late and student demand had been satisfactorily arranged, said the paper. Eventually the university would open until late on Saturdays as well as weekdays.

University Vice-chancellor Professor Konrad Morgan said that apart from the new schedules a priority was the need to find extra room for teaching. Morgan said the lack of space was a result of the student roll growing year after year.

"The number of students rose in a few years from 7,000 to 9,000 and lately to 13,000," he said, predicting even greater student demand next year.

But Morgan was concerned not all graduates could find work after completing their studies. He said he intended to work more closely with industry which could give employment forecasts.

"In this way, the university could then harmonise admissions relative to the number of jobs which will be available in three or four years," Morgan said.