Education is an exchange of knowledge across countries and borderless education has become a marked feature of higher education. One may be struck by the audacity and ambition of the government’s strategy for higher education. Obviously people with a parochial and insular outlook will develop new phobias and conceal their fears with concern with quality By Inspector
One day people who have used the services of a high tech private hospital will feel grateful, if they are not so already, to the person or persons who introduced such hospitals in Mauritius. At present the services provided in these hospitals are of such high standards, especially the foreign consultants there that one wonders why our doctors who are of equal competence rarely reach or sustain such high standards.
Obviously there are a number of reasons which can be put forward to explain why the highest quality standard fails to get institutionalised. These comments are not intended to minimise in any way the work of our hundreds of doctors and consultants who even in difficult circumstances that prevail continue to provide the highest level of treatment in our public hospitals. The positive impact which private hospitals will have on medical services in general, a matter perhaps too early to assess, is likely to be replicated in the education sector with the opening of Mauritius to private institutions of higher education.
No one will deny that high-tech private hospitals providing a standard of medical service hitherto unknown to the island have set the benchmark for other hospitals while attracting foreign patients and consultants. Mauritians in general are benefiting in a number of ways. Patients who can afford and are willing to pay for such services need not go abroad, have wider choices while an increase in the delivery of such services will ease the pressure on our public hospitals and result in major improvement in public health services. Even then many will continue to use certain public health services, perhaps out of ideological commitment to public services, and it is well established in literature that public services will improve considerably and standards maintained if they are also used by the middle classes. Two examples in our context are the Cardiac Centres and the State colleges. The desertion of middle classes from public hospitals or schools has always been a disaster for such services.
Similarly, a comparable scenario is taking place in the field of higher education. However much we invest, and the question remains if we have the money, we will never attain the level which private higher education can potentially reach. Already the JSS Academy has an excellent campus, and in a year or two, Charles Telfair will have a new campus and a few others will follow. The government will build several campuses for both public and private institutions. The arrival of Middlesex University will set new standards of higher education. Those who want to read for a law degree need no longer have to rely on just the University of Mauritius. New courses will be available where up to now we have not had the human resources necessary or even the logistics. We have had the SSR Medical College, now the University of Mauritius will have its own School of Medicine, and its Faculty of Arts where art, music and drama will be taught. The competitive environment in higher education which has now become global will itself inevitably enhance quality, widen choices and bring diversity in university programmes.
There are also other benefits for opening up higher education to foreign institutions and academics. At the University of Mauritius we have always benefited from the expertise of foreign academics who were on attachment in our different schools. In law, economics, management and engineering, foreign academics not only helped to enhance the quality of teaching and learning, they supervised PhD students and staff and published jointly in international journals to boost up the confidence of our lecturers. Many of the external examiners serve as supervisors. The first MBA programme at the University of Mauritius was run with the collaboration of the University of Bradford. There are numerous examples and types of collaboration with universities in the region and outside in terms of short attachments, split PhDs, networking, scholarships and publications that it is unthinkable to consider our public universities operating completely on their own.
At the present juncture, there is no better way to increasing access and improving quality than to open up the country to higher education. While government and regulatory institutions can provide some funding, together with a framework and the necessary mechanisms to improve higher education, a lot of the work will have to be carried out at the level of the institutions though some may be left to market forces. Can our public institution at the moment provide postgraduate courses in medicine? If we cannot do it at the moment, is it not fair to allow a foreign institution to do so while we build our own capacity to do so in the future? The same applies for research. Admittedly research is the Cinderella of our higher education. Again international collaboration remains a prerequisite. At present we do not have even have a critical mass of PhDs for many of our taught Masters programmes and consequently research will suffer. The advent of foreign academics in our environment will be a boost to research for it will intensify collaboration, exchange and produce new knowledge.
One cannot attract foreign institutions and their academics without attracting students. Our students have travelled all over the world to access higher education because among the many reasons, some of the areas of study are not available and some may never be available locally. The expansion of higher education in Mauritius will not only open access to them but will also attract foreign students. In the past we had students from Brazil and Africa to study sugar technology and today there are many who would like to study in Mauritius just like the thousands of Mauritians who are presently studying abroad.
Education is an exchange of knowledge across countries and borderless education has become a marked feature of higher education. One may be struck by the audacity and ambition of the government’s strategy for higher education. Obviously people with a parochial and insular outlook will develop new phobias and conceal their fears with concern with quality. On the other hand concerns with quality can also be legitimate but it would be dishonest to advance that government is not concerned with quality in both our public and private institutions although we all know that quality education in higher education remains a major challenge in both the developed and the developing worlds.
* Published in print edition on 8 October 2010