Celebrating 150th Anniversary of London University Overseas Mauritius Centre

From 1865 to 2015

Prospects for collaboration with London University would significantly enhance the quality of higher education in Mauritius and constitute an advance in making the island an education hub. It is small steps like this which end up creating the much needed substance for such an ambitious project in a place like Mauritius.

Ever since Sir Robert Farquhar, the first British Governor instituted the English Scholarship in 1813, which made provision for sending a deserving scholar of the Royal College to England for higher studies, students from Mauritius have continuously gone to Britain for their university education.

This is not surprising as a first degree at a British university is highly valued and is still considered as being amongst the best undergraduate education one can have, and even the Master’s degree provides state-of-the-art skills/knowledge in the modules being taught. In the QS World University Rankings for 2015-2016, about 17 British universities appear in list of the world best 100 universities.

Gandhi and Nehru did their studies in Britain, Bill Clinton competed for the Rhodes scholarship to get into Oxford, and while Mandela was in prison he studied for the LLB London external degree.

After the external degree programme of the University of London was established in 1858, Mauritius became the first overseas centre where the examination was held. I realized this when, once, while walking in the exhibition hall of the Senate Library of the University of London, I was pleasantly surprised to see a picture of a classroom showing a student taking the London University examination at the Royal College, with possibly a caption indicating that Mauritius became the first overseas centre in 1865.

Later when the University of London was celebrating the 150th anniversary of its external study programmes, I received an e-mail inquiring whether I could locate the original painting in Mauritius. Contact was established with the Rector, the Usher, Librarian and students of the Royal College Curepipe, and from my inquiry, I learnt that the painting used to be displayed in the library but it was removed in 2003 when the Royal College was renovated, and that it had since never been found. One just hopes that it has been kept somewhere in a safe place and forgotten, and maybe in the future this precious piece of our tangible heritage would find its way back in the library.

Even without this painting to remind us of the long association of Mauritius with the University of London, one knows that the external study programmes of the University have been of immense benefit to our students over the years, especially the many who could not, for various reasons, proceed to England for their studies. Those who could at least pay their travel to England and stay with friends or relatives would register at one of the London polytechnics and study for their degrees either on a part-time or on a full-time basis. All of them became well-known professionals and have made a significant contribution in their respective fields, particularly in the field of education and law. A few who come to mind in the field of education are Gaetan Raynal, D. Napal, Mohun Parsad Kallee, Ranjit Goordyal and Rajoo Vythilingum.

In those days, it seems to me that the BA General was completed in two stages. The Inter BA was awarded to those students who completed successfully the first stage. For some the second part was a tough one as students had to pass a compulsory paper in Mathematics. However the Inter BA was prestigious enough for local secondary schools to then advertise that members of their staff holding an Inter BA. It is well to remember that in those days success at the School Certificate was itself considered a feat and not more than 30 to 50 students actually succeeded to pass their School Certificate exams.

It was because the London external programme had increased access to higher education in Mauritius that in 2006, Dharam Gokhool, then Minister of Education commissioned a report by the Mauritius College of the Air with a view to making the MCA an approved centre for the London external programmes. A report by A. Tirvassen came out in 2007, and explored the possibilities of collaboration with the University of London External Programmes. It considered several scenarios namely providing guidance and support to students, developing MCA into an approved centre for teaching and learning or becoming a Resource Centre.

Unfortunately at that time there was no great interest in the higher quarters of the MCA to collaborate with the University of London and there was no follow-up. It fell initially upon the two public universities to step up access to higher learning and later, with the increase in private education providers, the Gross Tertiary Enrollment Rate for Mauritius increased from 29.4 in 2005 to 48.7 in 2010 and 50.1 in 2013.

In the last decade the landscape of tertiary education in Mauritius and in the world has undergone major transformation and the demand for higher education continues to grow. Last Wednesday, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of London, Professor Sir Adrian Smith FRS and Pro Vice-Chancellor (International), Dr Mary Stiasny OBE, were present at a reception hosted by the British High Commissioner to Mauritius, Jonathan Drew MBE, to celebrate this landmark in higher education and the long association between the University of London and Mauritius.

It is important that they seize this occasion to give a fresh stimulus to the education mission of the University. At present about 500 students are enrolled for London University degrees and these qualifications remain among the most prestigious available on the external mode. The curriculum content is the most up-to-date we can have. Examinations and standards are rigorously maintained and I am certain that there would be a greater demand for such degrees if information were more readily made available to prospective students and their parents both for Undergraduate and Master’s Programmes.

At present I suspect that it is the more mature students or those in full-time employment who tend to be attracted to the external programme. A lot more can be done to attract school leavers to the courses dispensed by the University backed by a student support system in place. In a changing and competitive educational environment, the University of London has all the expertise to come up with new ways to deliver its programmes, to support students with some kind of online tutorials, and possibly create a small support centre for Mauritius and the Southern African region, in collaboration with some local public or private institutions.

With a new and dynamic director at the Open University, prospects for collaboration with London would significantly enhance the quality of higher education in Mauritius and constitute an advance in making the island an education hub. It is small steps like this which end up creating the much needed substance for such an ambitious project in a place like Mauritius.

 

  • Published in print edition on 23 October 2015

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