New commerce university to focus on digital economy

Mauritania has approved a plan to set up its first higher education institution that will be specialising in various commerce-related disciplines.

The draft decree for the establishment of a graduate school of commerce was approved at the end of July at a meeting of the Mauritanian Council of Ministers.

The school will work on nurturing scholars who can do fundamental research as well as business professionals with advanced knowledge and sufficient practical expertise to independently engage in business activities.

The institution’s programmes will cover all the research areas of commercial science including economics, e-commerce, business administration, accounting, finance and securities, insurance, transportation and international trade.

The Mauritanian public higher education system consists of two universities, namely the modern University of Nouakchott, which absorbs about 70% of the student population, and the University of Islamic Sciences in Laayoune, along with two higher education schools as well as several higher learning institutes.

Enhancing access for postgraduate studies

Dr Béatrice Rouzé, an international senior expert for higher education and research at Lille University, France, told University World News that the graduate school was a worthy initiative.

Rouzé is a member of the international panel of experts who participated in preparing Mauritania’s research and innovation strategy.

In a WhatsApp note, Sheikh Ibrahim Ould Al-Din, the secretary general of the General Union of Mauritanian Students (GUMS), told University World News that the new graduate school “is a very important step to enhance access to postgraduate studies for Mauritanian university graduates who suffer from the lack of postgraduate programmes offered by universities, hindering their academic and professional aspirations in Mauritania”.

Ould Al-Din’s view was supported by a 2017 report, The Vision of the National Union for the Reality of Postgraduate Studies in Mauritania: The masters degree, prepared by the executive office of the National Union of Mauritanian students, or UNEM.

The lack of postgraduate programmes offered by Mauritanian universities is not unique to Mauritania but common in Arab states as the educational attainment of master level varies from 0.5% to 10% and below 1% in doctoral level, according to a November 2021 book, An Overview of Education Development in the Arab Region: Insights and recommendations towards Sustainable Development Goals, jointly published by the Tunisia-based Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization and the Smart Learning Institute of Beijing Normal University in China.

E-commerce for achieving sustainable development

“The new graduate school will also help with developing skilled human resources and to promote innovative research in the digital economy through e-commerce for achieving sustainable development,” Ould Al-Din said.

Ould Al-Din’s view is supported by a 2021 study entitled ‘E-commerce effects for the sustainable development goals’ which indicated that e-commerce is linked to 10 of the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Echoing Rouzé’s and Ould Al-Din’s views, Al-Khalil Ould Mohamed Al-Hafiz, a former secretary general of the GUMS, told University World News via a WhatsApp voice recording: “The establishment of a graduate school of commerce is very important and a timely step for enhancing Mauritania’s ability to engage in and benefit from e-commerce and the evolving digital economy.”

It should focus on producing the scientific workforce capable of contributing to digital economic developments and their implications for national and regional e-commerce strategies, he said.

“Also, with a rapid wave of industrial and digital revolution sweeping across the world in the 21st century, the new commerce school is necessary for the Fourth and Fifth Industrial Revolutions (Industrial 4.0 and 5.0), as it could help in preparing strategies and action plans for training university graduates to acquire new skills sets in design practice, processes and thinking applied to emerging technologies,” Al-Hafiz added.

According to the 2021 e-Trade for all, Mauritania ranked 145 out of 152 countries worldwide in the Business-to-Consumer (B2C) E-commerce Index prepared by the Switzerland-based United Nations Conference on Trade and Development which rates countries for their readiness to trade online.

Fostering entrepreneurship

“In an effort to promote self-employment for university graduates, the new commerce school must also provide the necessary workshops, training, mentorship and consultancies to equip students with an entrepreneurial mindset and support them to launch start-ups in the field of e-commerce and nurture them into full-fledged businesses,” Al-Hafiz concluded.

This is in line with August 2019 World Bank report, The Untapped Potential of Mauritania’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, which indicated that developing young people’s digital, practical and management skills is an emerging priority for fostering entrepreneurship in Mauritania.

“A still-developing entrepreneurial ecosystem, compounded by an unskilled population, continues to plague Mauritania, leaving it at the bottom of performers on crucial indicators for entrepreneurship,” the report stated.

Looking at climate change

Rouzé said Mauritania also has to facilitate research and the management of entrepreneurship in the basic sectors such as agriculture and the blue economy through establishing graduate schools in these fields.

“It is quite important to help people to understand what the real world is,” Rouzé added.

“Entrepreneurship has to be taught via learning by doing … How to request funds? How to plan a business? How to invest? How to negotiate with banks for an agricultural innovation? There are a lot of things to do ...

“People have to be educated in agriculture, for instance, how to face the climate change within 15 years and how to improve collaboration in the Sahel to develop adapted plants …

“If students are open and if they undergo training they can come up with ideas for development. Thereafter, they need help to request funds and create a business, step-by-step,” Rouzé concluded.