Laureate system: Time to move on
By TD Fuego
Far be it from me to be a spoilsport and cause rain to fall upon anyone’s parade but, seeing the euphoria — not to say the extraordinary hysteria — generated by the proclamation of the HSC Laureates last week, I just had to put in my tuppence worth. For many of us the whole affair smacks of the artificiality that only a two-faced, hypocritical society like ours is capable of displaying.
On the one hand, we talk ad nauseum about the democratisation of this, that and everything in between. Whilst on the other, we pander to the wishes of the mighty
well-wheeled who have every incentive to keep the status quo going, because it works so conveniently to their advantage. And who can blame them? With an annual gift of Rs5m+ of taxpayers’ money to fund the full cost of the wards’ studies at exorbitantly expensive European/American universities, they can laugh all the way to the bank to deposit their own cash, swelling their already large credit balances.
No one is fooled with the occasional messenger’s son from Quatre Cocos who figures in the laureate list once in a rare blue moon. The rest almost always come from homes that well can afford to spend Rs 5k+ a month on tuition fees alone — the monthly income of many of the poorer families. Yet, if you think about it, the most deserving is that messenger’s son from Quatre Cocos; not the specialist doctor’s from Sodnac. However, I cannot remember ever seeing a Claudio from Barkly or a Chandradeo from Chamouny on a laureate list!
Laureates : Money down the drain
In any other country that boasts so much about being an equitable, egalitarian society, scholarship goes to the bright poor kid on the block, and not the bright rich one from downtown. But this is Mauritius. We spend Rs 175m annually on the education of 32 children emanating mostly from well-to-do families and a pittance of Rs 350m on the UoM, which takes on the arduous job of educating some 6,000 young men and women from modest backgrounds. By any standard, this a very odd way of going about providing the much vaunted equal opportunities for all.
But the irony does not stop there. Out of the pampered 32, a mere 7 will deign to return to pay their debt to the country — even the meagre bond of Rs 500k they sign is not enforced! The remaining 25 will put themselves up for sale to highest foreign bidder. Consequently, if the country has progressed, it is not thanks to those geniuses-in-the-making that the laureates are considered to be by so many of our compatriots. Rather, we have to be thankful to the modest students who stay on or return after studying abroad in order to acquit of the debts their parents would have contracted to give them that unique chance to social mobility.
It has long been thought that regionalisation would give more of a chance to everyone, including the poor and needy, but that would mean depriving the well-to-do. And, here is another piece of blatant hypocrisy. We talk incessantly about the indivisibility of the Republic of Mauritius but, for the purpose of Laureate awards, we treat Rodrigues separately. As my good friend Keshraj would say, what’s takar for the goose ought to be takar for the gander. So, why don’t we treat Savannne, Pamplemousses and the other 7 districts on the same footing as Rodrigues?
No, that may give a huge blow to the self-congratulating Star schools who can only be the shining meteor by poaching from every region imaginable in order to swell their ranks with bright kids — who would have probably got through anyway — and boast about the extraordinary prowess of the teaching staff (the so-called Laureate makers) of their establishment. Free, wonderful advertisement for the private tuition that they dispense at Rs 500-Rs 1k a go.
Regionalise, if you dare and allow all our children take part on an even playing field!
Value for Money
Whilst regionalisation would make the Laureate system more equitable, I am not sure that it is the ultimate answer to the pressing need of the country to upgrade its manpower capacity. In a move to get value for money, we should be thinking in terms of the number of students who can be sponsored to study in cheaper countries like India and at local universities. Since the UoM’s bachelor degree allows direct entry to most European universities, only postgraduate/doctoral studies should, if required, be contemplated there.
In 2009, Education Minister Bunwaree declared that there would be an overhaul of the whole way we spend taxpayers’ money on scholarships. He postulated that the Rs 175m would be better spent on educating something like 400-600 students. As the lady would put it, that would indeed be value for mauny. Two years down the road, however, no one seems to know whether that idea, like so many brilliant ones, has been dumped or just put on hold. Because we have heard nothing more since that declaration in September 2009 by the good doctor.
Has there been a change of mind? Only those in the secrets of the Gods will know. But, since this is a matter than concerns the public, one would expect the authorities to keep the public informed. In order to reassure those who had their hopes raised upon the announcement of the Project, it behoves the Minister to spell out the mileage that has been covered and the distance remaining before its implementation.
The taxpayer, whose money that is concerned after all, needs to know. The ordinary people of this country need to know for sure that this equitable and egalitarian policy has not been binned like so many other bright ideas, in order to accommodate some obscure, self-serving lobby. They need to be reassured that Democratisation is not a just a vain buzzword the Government uses to please the gallery. And they need to know now, please!
* Published in print edition on 17 February 2012
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