Mauritian universities are offering more international scholarships and improving their ties to counterparts abroad in order to improve the sector's reputation and attract more foreign students. "Scholarships would help to internationalise our higher education" says Rajesh Jeetah, Minister of tertiary education, science, research and technology. Interview.
The Africa Report: You have recently talked about offering scholarships to foreign students. What exactly is the vision behind this move?
Rajesh Jeetah: The vision of this government is to transform the country into a knowledge-based economy. We have to create enrolment to attract more students from overseas and make Mauritius known as a destination for higher learning. These scholarships therefore form part of the strategy to position Mauritius as a quality higher education provider.
But we don't even have enough scholarships for our own students, do we?
It is not true to say that we do not have enough scholarships for our own students. In addition to state scholarships, there are numerous other financial support schemes funded by government to enable students to pursue higher education. The scholarships, which we are offering to students from the Commonwealth states, are affordable. Besides, the benefits to the country outweigh the costs by far, as the scholarships would help to internationalise our higher education.
And who is offering these scholarships?
The 54 scholarships are being offered by the Open University of Mauritius, a new institution which aims to increase enrolment in the region in the medium and long term.
With foreign students, you are also trying to attract more and more foreign universities and colleges.
All over the world higher education is undergoing considerable changes with globalisation, technological developments, the rise of the knowledge economy and changing skill requirements in the labour market.
Today, Malaysia and Dubai are already hosting a number of foreign universities.
But the country's tertiary education sector is not as developed as that of Dubai or Malaysia, is it?
Well, like other sectors, we have to adapt to the changing economic landscape and emerging social needs. We need to create high-level human resources to progress to the rank of middle-income country and at the same time position ourselves as a centre for higher education.
A lot of emphasis has been placed on your "one-graduate-per-family" concept. Aren't you doing this at the expense of vocational/technical education?
My colleague, the minister of education and human resources, has defined and is implementing a strategy for vocational education. There are about 9,300 students enrolled in technical and vocational education in publicly funded technical and vocational courses.
Technical education is being emphasised in the public tertiary education institutions as well. One example is the Institut Supérieur de Technologie, which provides training for technicians to respond to needs directly related to the industrial sector.
These areas will be strengthened with the new Université des Mascareignes, which will benefit from the collaboration of the Université de Limoges.
You often talk of teaching subjects like philosophy, culture and art. Is this not taking Mauritius further away from producing graduates fit for the job market?
Culture and arts are not only essential elements for the development of the personality but they also encourage creativity. Entertainment has emerged as an industry with potential for jobs. With the rapid evolution of digital media, technology and digital entertainment, there is a need to train our young people in these fields.
Shouldn't Mauritian institutions instead be making sure graduates are not left out of the jobs market?
Our public institutions have in-built mechanisms within their institutional structures for consultations with the private sector and civil society on the syllabus and programmes offered. Besides, the boards/councils of the public institutions also include representatives of the private sector. The joint economic council is itself represented on the tertiary education commission. So we are in constant consultation with the job market and job creators●