Frank – not his real name – is a student from Uganda who is in the second year of a master’s course in computer network design at the Mauritian campus of the UK’s Middlesex University. “It’s kind of quiet,” he says. “I have already done all the bars around here, and it is still the first week of term.” Whether Frank’s parents approve of the lack of distraction is unknown.
But the associate director of Middlesex University Mauritius, Dominique Arlanda, certainly approves of her new campus. A gaggle of students hang around the common spaces, two of them riffing on guitar and bass. The smell of new building hangs in the air. The lecture theatre is comfortable and state-of-the-art. “Last year [before they came to the new campus] we were bursting at the seams. We even had to run classes on a Saturday,” says Arlanda. The expansion allows the university to offer new courses in law and nursing, and an international foundation programme to prepare for a degree-level course.
Across the road from the campus, workers are racing to finish a sports centre before the opening in November, with an Olympic-length pool, basketball and five-a-side courts and a football pitch. From the top of the club house, sugar cane fields slope gently slope down to the picturesque Flic-en-Flac beach.
For the moment Middlesex students have all this to themselves, but the Uniciti campus is designed to host several educational establishments, sharing the sports facilities and restaurant.
Not just a university
“There is a wider, pro-Africa philosophy here, [it’s not] just a university,” says Thierry Sauzier, the newly minted chief executive of Medine Group, which is building the education hub. An old Mauritian conglomerate, its goal is to create a ‘knowledge cluster’ for Mauritius. Medine will make money out of property surrounding the campus; students will shop at the mall and live in accommodation created by Medine.
Sauzier says educating African graduates in Mauritius will benefit the continent. Whereas an African student who leaves to study in Europe or the US will often end up staying on after, those who study in Mauritius are likely to return home. “There is a huge shortage of skills in Africa and a real problem with talent-poaching,” says Sauzier.
He is trying to persuade corporates to think about sending their local staff for degrees in Mauritius as a way of keeping expatriate worker costs down. That is often a difficult ask: “Human resources directors often have a two-three-year time horizon. They need to start seeing things over the long term.”
Medine first had the idea of creating a ‘smart city’ on the land of its former sugar cane plantations. Figuring out who would live there was more difficult: “Building a city in Singapore and Mauritius is not the same thing,” says Sauzier. “In Singapore, you are in the middle of a market of 350 million people,” whereas Mauritius is in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
The choice of education came from looking to the market on the doorstep: continental Africa. To attract students, Medine has pitched prices at around half of the cost of a degree in Europe, including living costs. Studying at Uniciti will cost around Rs250,000 ($7,300) per year, it says.
Frank’s classmate, Nathan Phiri of Malawi, says he is very happy with the tranquillity of his surroundings and the quality of the lectures. “I am working on getting government services to people on their mobile phones, and getting cheaper networks are key.” An affordable degree should help him reach those goals.
This article came from the November 2017 print edition of The Africa Report
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