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Co-Existing Agendas for Higher Education in Mauritius

Internationalization, Massification, and Corporatization
  • Hyleen MariayeEmail author
  • Michael Anthony Samuel
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Part of the Global Education Systems book series (GES)

Abstract

The chapter reviews the higher education context of Mauritius that has embraced the widening discourses of reasserting its identities as providers of higher education (HE) regionally. Specifically, this chapter highlights how international policy narratives around the development of “knowledge hubs” have shaped this HE space. Divergent public and private education providers have variously interpreted and enacted the conception of these emerging spatial opportunities.

The chapter is organized into three parts

The first part introduces the broader context of the Republic of Mauritius and its links to South Asia

This is followed by a descriptive overview of the national higher education landscape (firstly, outlining the institutional types, courses offered, and enrolment rates and, thereafter, foregrounding the funding and quality assurance systems).

The last part discusses the shifting historical policy directives, priorities, and challenges, influenced by massification, privatization, and internationalization.

The chapter closes with a critical commentary of whether massification is occasioning more creative growth, restructuring and re-imaginations of the HE sector and its institutions.

Keywords

Higher education Knowledge hub Massification Privatization Internationalization Growth strategies 

Introduction to the Mauritian Context

Known in popular media for its idyllic sandy beaches and turquoise lagoons, Mauritius is a tropical island located at latitude 20 degree South and 58 degree East just above the Tropic of Capricorn. While its 2040 square kilometers land mass, which is spread over five denominations, namely, Mauritius, the main island, Rodrigues, Agalega, St Brandon, and Chagos Archipelago, is insignificant, its ocean territory covers 1.9 million kilometer square in the Indian Ocean.

Despite its remoteness to the centers of the world, Mauritius thus has and continues to garner attention because of its strategic location and sovereignty over a significant ocean area. Historically, Mauritius developed close ties with past colonial powers of which the French and British have been the most influential especially in shaping the economy and demographics of the island through the slave trade and indentured labor from the Indian subcontinent to ensure the success of the sugar industry (International Organization for Migration 2014).

The migratory flows that produced the current population profile constitute the tenuous link between Mauritius and Asia on account of the fact that more than 65% of the population traces its ancestry to India. This ancestry is officially acknowledged through the Indian Diaspora and through the Global Organization for People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) processes which have allowed till date many Mauritians to claim overseas citizen status (GOPIO International 2019). The cultural connection is thus strong and sustained through vibrant diplomatic and economic relationship characterized by respect and mutual assistance evidenced in the number of collaborative projects both countries are involved in (DefiMedia 2016).

The Political, Demographic, and Economic Profile of the Mauritius

As on 1 July 2019, the population of the Republic of Mauritius stood at 1,265,985, which is insignificant, but when coupled with landmass, it produces the highest population density in the world, around 625 per square kilometer. As of the end of 2019, 44% of the population fell in the age group of 25–54, 20% in the age range 55 plus and the remaining 26% in the range below 25 years (Index Mundi 2019). Such demographics, which are characteristic of an ageing population, are expected to generate considerable fiscal and economic anxiety in the medium term (Hanoomanjee 2005).

Post-colonial Mauritius is a Republic since 1992 modelled on the Westminster system of cameral parliament with a multi-party system that has produced coalition governments since independence. Fifteen languages are officially recognized although many of them are not commonly spoken because they are the ancestral languages of the various ethnic groups composing the population (Fessha and Yo Tu Nam 2015). The lingua franca of more than 95% of Mauritians is Mauritian Kreol which was given a language status over a decade ago.

Mauritius is currently classified as an upper middle-income economy following the successful transformation of a straggling monocrop nation into a broad-based thriving economy. Capitalising on the preferential trade agreements with Europe and America, and policies that favoured public-private partnerships as well as human capital development, successive governments have been able to maintain positive rates of economic growth always exceeding 3% even in the face of external shocks (Zafar 2011), through the setting up of ICT sector and offshore banking to maintain employment creation (World Bank 2015).

Its economic policy has also been guided since independence by the ideology of a welfare state that is articulated through free health, education, and universal old-age pension of USD 220 per month. However, the costs of this welfare state are proving to be unsustainable given the spiraling public debt with a debt to gross domestic product of 65%. Signs of economic distress also include an unemployment rates hovering at 6.8% (World Bank 2018b). Since 2007 in a bid to get Mauritius out of the low value trap, the government adopted an ambitious policy of transforming Mauritius into a knowledge hub in the region (Human Resource Development Council 2007). The policy is being relatively slow to take off majorly on account of constraints experienced in the educational system in meeting the demands of a versatile labor market.

Contemporary Major Challenges

In the 3-year National Strategic Plan, 2018–2019 titled “Rising to the challenge of our ambitions” stated the following:

“…the country faces several challenges as it aims to join the league of high-income countries. The main challenges are to:
  • raise productivity levels and improve competitiveness;

  • formulate sustainable policies and systems for an ageing population;

  • build an innovative economy,

  • enhance quality of education and training;

  • reduce income inequality;

  • reduce unemployment among the youths and women; and,

  • attract steady foreign direct investment particularly in productive sectors” (Republic of Mauritius 2017b, p. 9).

However, how Mauritius addresses the twin challenges of climate and economic transition will determine whether it will be able to sustain the economic growth rates that earned it the distinction of an economic miracle in the literature. The former relates to the high costs of increasingly virulent tropical storms that are likely to exceed USD 110 million annually. The latter relates to the ability to transition to its articulated objective of becoming a high-income knowledge-based economy. Structural impediments in the form of a shortage of skilled labor and misaligned economic incentives have emerged because of bottlenecks at different levels (Ramdoo 2014). The mismatch between the outcomes of the higher education system and the requirement of the labor market, rising income inequalities, though mitigated through a system of transfer payments, coupled with youth unemployment rates at 22%, threaten to add to the economic stress of the large-working and middle-class section of the population producing social and political instability.

The transformation of Mauritius in a knowledge hub was constructed on two pillars: firstly, to position Mauritius in the region as a world-class gateway for post-secondary education as well as a Centre for Higher learning and Excellence (Human Resource and Development Council 2007). The strategy to help Mauritius attain world-class quality rested on fiscal incentives provided to local institutions to partner with universities of high standing in running a range of high profile programs of study. Secondly, the economic implications of this move is to expand expenditure for tertiary education as well as research and development beyond the current 4% of GDP and to strengthen the links of the tertiary sector with industry (Republic of Mauritius 2019).

On both of these counts, performance is found to be wanting. On the one hand, partnerships with institutions of high repute have been slow to come by. As at 2018, most of linkages with private institutions were established by the main campus such as Curtin University (Australia), Ecole Centrale de Nantes, and ESSEC Business School which are the most highly ranked, although none of them are positioned within the top hundred world university ranking. On the other hand, since the government adopted a policy of making public undergraduate education free, it is likely that the much-needed budget for high caliber research to drive a knowledge economy will be constrained.

More so, in view of competing demands for public expenditure on transport and transfer payments recently politically promised, the project of developing the island in a knowledge hub will require substantial resource mobilization of overseas brand name institutions. For one, local private investment will be insufficient to leverage the required resources to make the country a Centre of Excellence in Higher Learning. For two, the risk-averse nature and culture of local enterprises are unlikely to respond to the battery of tax incentives provided by the government (Human Resource Development Council 2007).

How successfully Mauritius negotiates the process of massification, internationalization, and privatization of its higher education sector will influence its ability to respond positively to the economic challenges of raising productivity and leading innovation.

The National Mauritian Higher Education Landscape

This section will provide a descriptive overview of the national higher education landscape. It will, firstly, outline the institutional types, courses offered, and enrolment rates within the specific typologies of HE institutions and, thereafter, foreground the funding and quality assurance systems regulating the sector.

Institutional Typologies, Courses, Enrolment, and Modes of Delivery

While the dominant international nomenclature to describe this sector refers to it as “higher education,” the terminology preferred in Mauritius is “tertiary education.” The sector includes all post-secondary provisions including polytechnics, vocational, and professional education. Tertiary education providers are classified as per their funding source as public-funded institutions (PFIs hereafter) and Private Post-Secondary Institutions (PSEIs hereafter). As of December 2018, 10 PFIs and 33 PSEIs were in operation, while technically 45 were registered (Although 45 did have a licence to operate). The courses offered range from undergraduate certificates to doctoral degrees and were delivered in full-time, part-time, and distance modes. A considerable number of Mauritians, an average of 9000 yearly, also sought higher education opportunities abroad (Figures are not available as to whether they are in full-time of part-time study).

Tertiary Institutions, Enrolment, Range, and Level of Courses Offered

Total enrolment has been on a declining trend in the last 4 years, falling to 47,398 in 2018 after peaking at 50,608 in 2014. Within this broad parameter, enrolment in PFIs increased from 20,966 in 2016 to 22,155 in 2018. The share of PFIs in the total tertiary enrolment was 46.7%, while PSEI including self-study on distance mode is at 36%, while that of overseas enrolment was at 17.3%. The data from this section is drawn from the 2018 Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) document on participation in tertiary education (TEC 2019).

Table 1 below gives an indication of the uptake of course across fields of study as a percentage of total enrolment.
Table 1

Distribution of tertiary enrolment across major fields of study as a percentage of total enrolment locally

Field of study

Percentage of total enrolment

Science and technology (sciences, pharmacy, dentistry, ocean studies, textiles)

6.5

Accounting

26.0

Administration and management

19.1

Information technology

7.8

Engineering

4.7

Education

7.9

Medicine

1.8

Banking and finance

4.3

Business/marketing/commerce

1.8

Law

2.8

Travel and tourism

2.6

Languages

2.8

Social sciences

1.7

Humanities

0.5

Arts

2.1

Source: Adapted from TEC 2018

Publicly Funded Institutions

PFIs Enrolment

The major player among the public providers remains the University of Mauritius (UoM hereafter, founded in 1965) which accounts for 8583 of the tertiary enrolment with the remaining 9 institutions securing an additional 13,572 enrolment in 2018. These institutions are:
  • Mahatma Gandhi Institute (MGI hereafter, founded in 1971)

  • Mauritius Institute of Education (MIE hereafter, founded in 1973)

  • Mauritius Institute of Health (MIH hereafter, founded in 1989)

  • University of Technology, Mauritius (UTM hereafter, founded in 2000)

  • Rabindranath Tagore Institute (RTI hereafter, founded in 2001)

  • Fashion and Design Institute (FDI hereafter, founded in 2009)

  • Mauritius Institute for Training and Development (MITD hereafter, founded in 2009)

  • Open University Mauritius (OU hereafter, founded in 2012)

  • Universite des Mascareignes (UDM hereafter, founded in 2012)

The restructuring of the public higher education sector came in 2006 with the merger of existing institutions to rationalize resources in the sector. The last four entrants have all absorbed two or more defunct institutions and have been accorded degree-granting powers.

The institution registering the highest growth rates over the past 5 years is the OU on account of the expansion of its portfolio and the accessibility and convenience offered by Distance Education (DE) learning modes as revealed in the table which illustrates the relative share of each of these institutions in total enrolment (Table 2):
Table 2

Student enrolment in public-funded institutions in 2017/2018

Institution

Number

Percentage of total enrolment

University of Mauritius

8583

38.7

Open University of Mauritius

5601

25.3

University of Technology, Mauritius

2940

13.3

Mauritius Institute of Education

2817

12.7

Mahatma Gandhi Institute and Rabindranath Tagore Institute∗

593

2.7

Mauritius Institute for Training and Development

557

2.5

Universite des Mascareignes

837

3.8

Fashion and Design Institute

188

0.84

Mauritius Institute of Health

39

0.18

Source: TEC 2018

Courses Offered at PFIs

The three mainstream national universities, namely, UoM, OU, and UTM, account for 77% of total enrolment. They offer a broad range of courses from undergraduate to doctoral level studies, while the remaining seven offer specialist courses also spanning both undergraduate and postgraduate programs. Their foci could be described as follows:
  • MIE focuses on teacher education, curriculum development, and research degree in education-related fields with two doctoral programs.

  • MIH provides for the professional development of health practitioners.

  • MITD specializes in vocational courses with dominant share of undergraduate diploma level.

  • UDM course offerings are in undergraduate management and technology fields; it does offer a few Masters level courses.

  • MGI and RTI service fine arts and Asian languages and culture-related courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

  • FDI as the name indicates engages in the provision of textiles and fashion-related courses.

Levels of Courses Offered at PFIs

The bulk of enrolment (67%) is located at Bachelor level which stood at 14777. Seventy percent of students reading for a Bachelor’s degree were in full-time mode as shown in the table below (Table 3):
Table 3

Total enrolment in PFIs by level of study in Mauritius in 2018

Level

Sub-degree

Degree

Postgraduate

Doctoral

% of Total enrolment

14

67

16.8

2.5

Source: (Adapted from TEC 2018)

This overall picture needs to be further demarcated among PFIs below (Table 4):
Table 4

Enrolment by level (undergraduate and postgraduate) (These figures include only degree programs at undergraduate level, and the postgraduate enrolment figures include doctoral level studies) within PFIs in 2018

#

PFI

Postgraduate degrees

Undergraduate degrees

Total PFI enrolment

Student enrolment

% per institution

Student enrolment

% per institution

Total student enrolment

% of total

1

University of Mauritius

1120

13.0

7463

87.0

8583

38,7

2

Open University Mauritius

1677

29.9

3924

70.1

5601

25,3

3

University of Technology Mauritius

449

15.3

2491

84.7

2940

13,3

4

Mauritius Institute of Education

107

3.8

2710

96.2

2817

12,7

5

Universite des Mascareignes

48

5.7

789

94.3

837

3,8

6

Mahatma Gandhi Institute and Rabindranath Tagore Institute

40

6.7

553

93.3

593

2,7

8

Mauritius Institute for Training and Development

0

0.0

557

100.0

557

2,5

9

Fashion and Design Institute

0

0.0

188

100.0

188

0,8

10

Mauritius Institute of Health

39

100.0

0

0.0

39

0,2

 

Total

3480

15.7

18,675

84.3

22,155

100

Source: Adapted from TEC 2018

Most postgraduate courses are run on part-time mode given the increasing importance of distance education (DE). The four major universities account for 95% of postgraduate enrolments within the PFIs category.

Private Secondary Education Institutions (PSEIs)

PSEIs vary in size with some of the providers operating with 10 students to those having campuses with some 1500 students. While technically in 2018 45 were allowed to operate by the higher education regulator, only 33 had registered students. Out of this figure, only three have qualification awarding powers, namely, Amity Institute of Higher Learning, Rushmore Business School, and Charles Telfair Institute that has been converted to the branch campus of the University of Curtin (Mariaye and Samuel 2018). The awarding instances for the remaining 22 PSEIs are generally international universities or professional bodies and guilds.

PSEIs Enrolment

PSEIs are required by law to apply for registration of their entity and to seek accreditation for their courses with the regulating body that is the Tertiary Education Commission (see section on governance). The PSEIs, 33 in number, offer courses in diverse fields and at levels ranging from Certificate to PhD and DBA, with the awarding bodies mostly based overseas. The trend in terms of enrolment in PSEIs has been generally on the rise with currently 25% of total enrolment being effected by students in a PSEI. The number of students per PSEI varies greatly from less than 10 to over 4 thousand students.

The predominance of professional courses in PSEI is led by courses in accountancy (such as the ACCA) with 3960 (51%) enrolments of a total of 17,043; London School of Accountancy has 3960 registered students. Administration and management attracted some 1800 enrolments, whereas in science-related fields, information technology has the highest enrolment followed by medicine. Degree and professional level courses constitute the bulk of their enrolment (Tables 5 and 6).
Table 5

Enrolment by level (undergraduate and postgraduate) (These figures include only degree programs at undergraduate level, and the postgraduate enrolment figures include doctoral level studies) within PSEIs

Level

Sub-degree

Degree

Professional

Postgraduate

% of Total enrolment

6.5

40,1

43.4

9.9

Source: Adapted from TEC 2018

Table 6

Enrolment by level and field (undergraduate and postgraduate) (These figures include only degree programs at undergraduate level, and the postgraduate enrolment figures include doctoral level studies) within some PSEIs

PSEI

Total enrolment

Major courses

London College of Accountancy

4057

ACCA

BSP School of Accountancy

1164

ACCA

Charles Telfair now Curtin University Branch

1506

Bachelor of commerce/management/ media/advertising/media

SSR Medical School

672

MBBS

Rushmore Business School

381

Quantity surveying/business management

African Leadership University

307

Bachelor of computing/ business management/social sciences/electrical power systems

Middlesex

918

LLB/information technology with business management

YK Business School

76

Bachelor of commerce

Source: Adapted from TEC 2018

Accounting studies, commerce, computing, and ICT are the most common provisions among private providers. Curtin University branch campus (rebranded from Charles Telfair) stands as the most significant player. One of the marked differences between PFIs and PSEIs related to the absence of science-related subjects offerings in a large majority of PSEIs. This can be explained by the demand-driven approach that ensures the financial viability of the enterprise and by the high cost of resourcing science-based tertiary education provisions. In contrast, technology courses especially those that combine with management orientations appear to have popular appeal.

Distance Education

Insularity as well as restricted access to higher education historically led to an early uptake of distance education (DE) as a means of continuing education in a range of fields. With broadband internet becoming a reality coupled with the expanding offers for distance education (DE) even from traditional universities, this mode of delivery of courses is rapidly gaining ground with 11, 209 students registered on a DE program (TEC 2019). This rise is powered by the OU that offered mostly distance mode of delivery of its program. Distance mode of learning especially eLearning is finding increasing popularity among mature learners for its convenience and cost which make it a realistic means of accessing continuous professional development as is the case for many in service teachers. PFIs have also carefully strategized DE in their structure through the creation of distance/eLearning centers; the outcome of which is 5,830 students now registered through distance mode for PFIs. Five thousand three hundred and seventy nine students are registered on distance education (DE) course with foreign universities on self-study.

Governance, Steering, and Planning of Higher Education

Governance of higher education is undergoing fundamental changes with the enactment of the Higher Education Bill brought to parliament in December 2017 (Republic of Mauritius 2017a). This new Act, which came in effect in 2018, makes provision for a restructuring of the governance structures that currently rests with two institutions functioning under the aegis of the Ministry of Education: the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC hereafter) and the Mauritius Qualification Authority (MQA hereafter).

The functions of these two institutions will be provided by a new architecture comprising:
  • A Higher Education Advisory Council to advise government on policies for the effective direction, promotion, and development of higher education in Mauritius

  • A Higher Education Commission to monitor the performance of public higher education institutions, including measuring their performance against specified outcomes.

  • A Quality Assurance Authority with the power to do regular quality audits in any tertiary institution operating in Mauritius.

However, till date the Act has not been implemented, and both TEC and MQA remain in operation.

Tertiary Education Commission (TEC)

The objects of TEC are “to promote, plan, develop and coordinate post-secondary education in Mauritius and to implement an overarching regulatory framework to achieve high international quality. It also has the responsibility to allocate government funds to the Tertiary Education Institutions under its purview and to ensure accountability and optimum use of resources” (TEC 2019). TEC thus cumulates multiple roles in policy design and implementation, and it is equally involved in institutional capacity building and overall policy advice and in the recent years has taken an active role in promoting research-related activities through the setting up of various schemes and research events (TEC 2019). In fulfillment of its regulatory function, it registers, grants degree awarding powers, and accredits programs of all PSEIs. Its regulatory framework encompasses three dimensions: the provision of regulations and guidelines, establishing recognition and equivalence of awards, and carrying out external quality audits.

Mauritius Qualifications Authority (MQA)

Set up in 2001, the MQA pursues three objects, namely, the development, implementation, and maintenance of a national qualifications framework; ensuring compliance with provisions for registration and accreditation of training institutions; and, lastly, ascertaining that standards and registered qualifications are internationally comparable (MQA 2019). While there may be some overlapping spheres between the stated object of the TEC, the MQA specifically focuses on the technical and vocational training sector (Mohamedbhai 2006).

Structure of Governance within the PFIs

All PFIs operate under the aegis of the Ministry of Education but function autonomously through a board/council/ depending on the legal provisions made at the time they were promulgated through an act of parliament. All the PFIs are organized along the lines of faculties or schools headed by normally the most senior staff or by competitive application although the latter option is not yet the dominant culture (TEC 2019). Similar to international practices, there are two main steering instances in all PFIs: one dealing with both strategic and operational management, normally comprising of heads of faculties/schools/departments and the other dealing with academic matters often embodied in terms of an academic board or a senate.

Funding the HE System

In 2017–2018 government expenditure on tertiary education amounted to MUR 1.23 billion (about USD $3.5 million), representing 6.8% of the total budget of the Ministry of Education. MUR 800 million goes to the four public universities with the lion’s share of 80% going to UoM (Mohamedbhai 2019). This is insignificant compared to what countries like Singapore where a third of the education budget which approximates USD 12.8billion is allocated to higher education (Government of Singapore 2019).

Although students enrolled in public higher education institutions are funded by the government to a large extent, the proportion of state funding varies significantly among public higher education institutions. Education at the University of Mauritius became free in December 1976. The decision to abolish tuition fees was made in the wake of a political decision by the then government, taken on the eve of the December 1976 general elections. Tuition fees, however, were reintroduced in June 1980, only to be abolished again in 1988 (Mohamedbhai 2019). At the University of Technology, Mauritius, all students, part-time and full-time, pay tuition fees, again not full cost, together with administrative charges. In the remaining non-university public higher education institutions, while some funds are generated, they depend mostly on public funding for both their recurrent and capital budgets (Mohadeb 2010). The private institutions, local and overseas, receive no state funding and, as such, are self-financing. They generate their income from various sources but mostly from tuition fees.

The public institutions are encouraged to generate their own funding which is going to be increasingly difficult with current government policy to waive tuition fees for students registering for the first time in an undergraduate course in either full-time or part-time mode. Postgraduate students are charged tuition fees whether they are studying in full-time or part-time mode (TEC 2019).

The Tertiary Education Commission as per the consolidated TEC ACT 2005 has the power to receive funds from the government, raise funds, as well as allocate funds for the provision and development of tertiary education. According to the same Act, TEC has a control over the management of funds given to the public-funded institutions (PFIs) that are under its purview. The allocation of funds is based on the program-based budgeting approach with agreed targets set for the sector (TEC 2010).

PFIs are however currently experiencing a substantial resource crunch due to dwindling state funding. A case in the point is the critical situation experienced by the UOM in 2007–2008 when intake had to be trebled in some cases to make up for the financial deficit which had accumulated over years. PFIs have been pressuring for the ability to change tuition fees to remain financially afloat (Ramtohul 2016). The new policy of the government to make undergraduate tertiary education free will cost the State an additional MUR 600 million that represents 49% of the current education budget.

Quality Assurance in Higher Education

The TEC Act was revised in 2005 to extend its powers to quality assurance. The Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) has the responsibility of ensuring and monitoring quality of tertiary education in Mauritius by developing more exacting standards in terms of requirements to operate as a higher education entity and establishing new forms of external quality assurance. Publicly funded institutions are subject to compulsory institutional academic quality audits based on the guidelines contained in the Quality Audit Handbook (TEC 2019). The first cycle of audits which is to recur on a 5-year cycle started in 2005 and has been completed in 2010.

Quality assurance (QA) is now integrated within the institutional structures, normally led by an academic whose responsibility is to ensure that the regulatory requirements are understood and enacted upon in all institutional processes. These individual QA instances work with the QA section of TEC that provides institutional capacity building to assist PFIs in improving their QA processes to ensure better outcomes (TEC 2019).

Since most of the PSEIs are awarding external degrees (i.e., degrees whose credentials bear the names of institutions outside the national context), the QA processes are integrated at the level of program accreditation. Instead of an institutional audit that encompasses fitness for and of purpose across institutional structures processes and outcomes, the quality auditing is limited to ensuring that the program meets the quality requirements in terms of design and expected outcomes and accreditation. QA is not a one-off process but is granted for a specific period after which a fresh application needs to be submitted. An accreditation panel is set up chaired by the Director of TEC and two subject specialists. It may grant provisional accreditation subject to quality control visits on site (Mohamedbhai 2006).

The MQA equally shoulders quality assurance responsibilities for a range of training and professional institutions that fall under its jurisdiction. In June 2016, it published its quality assurance standards that laid down guidelines for registration of training institutions and trainers as well as accreditation for courses and programs (MQA 2016).

Graduate Employability

Since 2012 the TEC carries out regular graduate tracer studies. Notwithstanding this macro perspective generated, individual institutions such as the UTM also produced similar studies in response to an emergent concern of graduate unemployment. Mauritian higher education institutions like its international counterparts have subject to severe criticism for producing graduates who are not deemed to be work ready. Work readiness or employability is commonly understood as having two components: discipline-specific knowledge and skills which are relevant to current and future needs of the industry or sector and transferable nondiscipline-specific skill which applies across contexts (OECD 2016). Studies carried out from a stakeholder’s perspective reveal a perceived graduate deficit in terms of soft skills and job-specific skills which is in line with international literature highlighting what universities consider to be the unrealistic expectations of the industry (Dhakal et al. 2018). While graduate employability can be explored through the lens of perceived or actual skills of graduate, the most common statistical tool used factors in the time taken for graduates to find employment which is itself tributary to a range of influences from the skills match between higher education provisions and industry demand, the career steering mechanisms in place at universities, migration patterns of qualified labor, salaries practices of industry, and structural changes operating within the broader economic landscape.

The level of unemployment among graduates increased from 7.9% in 2010 to 17.4% in 2014 and is supported by several studies which identified skills mismatch and employability skills of jobseekers as the main reasons for the rise. Skills mismatch refers to various types of imbalances between skills offered and skills needed in the world of work. Overall, 23.1% of respondents in the Graduate Tracer Study 2011 undertaken by TEC were found to be underemployed as their jobs required less than a degree (TEC 2012). The underemployment level affected in particular those who had studied Agriculture, Hindi and Indian Philosophy, Management, Joint Economics Degrees (with Management or Accounting), Banking and International Finance, Human Resource Management, History, Political Science, as well as Tourism and Hospitality Management, among others (TEC 2012).

Harvard Business Review issue of March 2017 positions Mauritius in the top five countries more at risk from brain drain with 41% of graduates migrating predominantly to developed countries in search of better employment prospects and higher salaries (Dhakal 2018). Remedial measures include the adoption of work placement within higher education curricula, the setting up of specific institutional structures, and the integration of industry expectations with programmatic designs. However, the link between graduate employability and the quality of teaching and learning has also been indicated in extant literature as needed attention. This issue is taken up in the individual external audit reports of higher education institutions.

Shifting Historical and HE Policy Directives

This section will explore the shifting historical policy directives, priorities, and challenges directing higher education provisioning in Mauritius. The dominant influences of massification, privatization, and internationalization of the system are illustrated via the presentation of two case studies depicting re-orienting convergences and divergences of public and private HE institutions. All these agendas co-exist to constitute the dynamic nature of the present higher education system nationally and at local institutional levels.

This section of this chapter will foreground, firstly, some conceptual interpretations of internationalization and then proceed to outline the localized indigenous shapers of policy directives of HE in Mauritius.

Mauritius and Internationalization

Knight defines internationalization (2004, p. 11) as “the process of integrating an international, intercultural and global dimension into the purpose functions (primarily teaching or learning, research, service) or delivery of higher education.” The first wave of internationalization occurred in the 1990s through cross-border provisions in collaboration with universities from developed countries. Franchise partnerships were developed with foreign institutions by a few private institutions. Public universities offered joint degrees in collaboration with international partners not only to expand their portfolio but also to build institutional capacity (Mariaye and Samuel 2018; Ramtohul 2016). This initial process also included a range of international benchmarking practices in the area of program design and assessment. The second wave of internationalization was ushered in 2006 with the adoption of the knowledge hub policy that is discussed in more details below. The agenda of internationalization has met with limited success in Mauritius despite an articulated policy pursued since 2006 (HRDC 2007). In 2018, the total number of international students registered with either a PFI or a PSEI was 2380, very different from the targeted 100,000 students (TEC 2019).

The PFIs met mitigated success with UoM the flagship university registering 65 international students. Comparatively, UDM has some 80 international students on campus despite a yearly student population hovering around 800. With these figures, it is the most internationalized PFI. Eight hundred and seven Indian students mostly pursuing MBBS are on Mauritian campuses followed by 205 Nigerians, the bulk of whom are registered with African Leadership University and Middlesex University.

More than a third of this number was accounted for in two PSEIs, namely, the SSR Medical School and Anna Medical College and Research Centre. Half of the enrolments at the African Leadership University and Middlesex University emanate from the African continent making them the most regionalized PSEIs.

The abovementioned figures are even more significant when compared to 8200 Mauritian students registered abroad for tertiary studies. Australia and France/La Reunion have become the preferred destination overall with 1700 (21%) and 1530 (18%) students, respectively, followed by the UK 1200 (15%) and China 1,156 (14%). Medicine and engineering which have been traditionally considered as high-status professions have been in 2018 the most frequently chosen field of study. France and China appear to have become the main destination for aspiring physicians, the former on account of the very low tuition/registration fees as public higher education was free in France for foreign students. This situation is likely to change in the future as France has introduced differentiated enrolment fees for non-European Union students (Campus France 2019). China, on the other hand, offers generous scholarships to promote it as a higher education destination. South Africa is the leading African destination for tertiary education given the SADC agreement for not charging international fees to Mauritian students.

Localized Shapers of the HE Policy System

Within this section, the localized higher education policy moves are explored highlighting the rationale, forms, contradictions of such policies, and their implications. We identify three distinct moves in the development of the higher education sector in Mauritius. The first one relates to the period that immediately followed independence revealing the close connection between nation building and higher education. It is characterized by an expansion led by the State whose aim was to provide a strong political and ideological basis for higher education translated in a conscious structuring around specialist institutions (Cloete et al. 2018). The second distinct move is ushered in through the publication of the policy document articulating the government’s ambition to position the island as a regional knowledge hub through liberalization of the sector by means of increasing private provision and internationalization (Human Resource Development Council 2007). The third and present move is what we choose to refer to as a corporatization stage of higher education where small providers have exited the field that is now dominated by corporate multinationals.

Higher Education as Nation Building?

During the first two decades after independence the government of the time chose to mobilize a network of cordial international relations from Asia and UK to assist in setting up a three-pronged strategy aimed, namely, at developing a strong national university which would respond to manpower requirements in agriculture and industry, institutions with specific mandates in education, vocational training and health as well as those which would respond to the cultural needs of the country. It was the pre-massification time of higher education where only the academically talented or the privileged acceded to life opportunities by obtaining a higher qualification (Cloete et al. 2018).

The three institutions set up either just before or just after independence stand as vibrant examples of how colonial forces assisted in setting up higher education institutions. The first one, the University of Mauritius, grew out of a College of Agriculture set up in 1924 and in time was patterned on the model of the British universities benefiting from substantial financial support from the Crown as well as significant academic linkages (Knight and Teferra 2008).

Two additional higher education institutions were created in the aftermath of independence: the Mauritius Institute of Education (1973) which provided for teacher education by means of a Teacher’s Diploma and a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (Samuel and Mariaye 2016) and the Mahatma Gandhi Institute (1970) which main objective is the promotion of Indian culture and traditions through the provision of certificates and diploma in Asian Languages and Performing and Fine Arts (Mahatma Gandhi Institute 2019).

The services offered by the three institutions came in time, to be complemented by a range of post-secondary education providers: polytechnics, a College of the Air, an institute of management studies, and a hospitality training institute known as L’Ecole Hoteliere which delivered non-degree awards offered in partnership with foreign universities. The Mauritius College of the Air, set up in 1971, was created to provide dedicated distance education (DE) facilities. Print-based correspondence courses modeled after international universities such as Open University UK and the Indira Gandhi Open University were provided especially to those seeking professional development in the education sector at affordable prices (TEC 2013). The Mauritius Institute of Health (MIH) was set up in 1989 to respond to the training needs of health professionals both in Mauritius and in the African region leading in many cases to a postgraduate award. The Mauritius Industrial and Vocational Training Board (MITD), previously known as the IVTB, was set up in 1988 to promote vocational education and training with the aim of supplying a trained workforce for the industrial, service, and domestic sectors. It did not offer tertiary level certificates and diplomas until 1998 in areas such as Hotel Management, Fashion and Textile, Design, Automation, and Information Technology.

Access to international higher education was mostly by means of full-time engagement by the upper classes that turned to France, the UK, South Africa, and Australia. The middle class especially those of Indian origin saw in Indian universities a means of improving their chances of economic and social mobility through higher education (Gokulsing 2014).

Institutions of higher learning remained a strong symbol of progress. In the collective imagination, they also represent influential spaces for shaping the elite and future political leaders of the nation, for maintaining or achieving a shared definition of national values and culture although in practice they may remain the highway for a disguised preservation of ties with past colonial forces through the machinery of foreign aid articulated through external support, services, advice, and the exchange of personnel. As has been the case of many newly independent Africa nations in the late 1960s, Mauritian Higher Education became the object of internationalization strategies of colonial forces (Singh 2011).

The Rise of New Orthodoxies

The early 1990s saw a radical change in economic situation of the island led by the booming textile and tourist industries. What is referred to as the “economic miracle” pushed incomes to an average USD 13305 per annum for the period 1990s to 2000s (Trading Economics 2019). Despite this turn around and the steady expansion of the UoM, the enrolment ratio remained resolutely entrenched below the 10% mark of tertiary enrolment on account of demand and supply factors (Svirydzenka and Petri 2017).

Developing an alternative avenue for creating access to tertiary education (Gokulsing 2014; Ramtohul 2016) through internationalization became another orthodoxy of higher education discourses. The intention was to expand access beyond the inherently constrained capacity of the local sector. However, at the turn of the century, internationalization of higher education at home slowly took off as a response to rising income and demand with provisions being made on a limited scale available through private providers such as De Chazal Du Mee Business School (currently Charles Telfair Institute which is converted to Curtin International, Mauritius Branch) which kick-started operations in 1999 with 232 students studying to become chartered accountants and IT engineers. This constitutes an early instance where big corporates such as a large international accounting firm would set up its own training center to feed into its manpower requirements. Sidelines, providers such as Mascareignes Academy of Economics, Law and Management (MALEM) set up in 2001 and styled as vocational training centres, acted as a local broker to the University of South Africa (UNISA) providing distance education courses. The number of such operators has fluctuated throughout the post-independent period with an average of 50 being annually registered with TEC (TEC 2019).

The 2000–2005 government vision was encapsulated in a document titled “Shaping Mauritius in a cyber-island” (2002) which gave life to the government’s vision to bring a hi-tech hub to this island nation and make Mauritius a cyber-island. The intention was to add ICT as the fifth pillar of the economy next to the cane industry, textiles manufacturing, tourism, and financial services. An upsurge in the demand for professionals in the sector was anticipated which was to be only partially met through existing higher education providers.

On the supply side, the effect of this economic policy translated into the setting up of a University of Technology, Mauritius, in 2001 with a capacity to accommodate some 3000 additional students in technology, sustainable development science and public sector policy, and management-oriented courses. Its enrolment figures rose steadily to 6.7% of total tertiary enrolment in 2008. Private provision was also steadily picking up with the number of students studying through distance mode also growing to 11,209. Between 2001 and 2006, the participation rate almost doubled to reach 21%. Private institutions totaling 55 had also mushroomed to cater for the increased demand for tertiary education (TEC 2008).

Contemporary Drivers of HE: The Knowledge Hub?

A new set of drivers came in 2005 in the form of what is commonly referred to as the knowledge hub policy which argued for a need to shift to knowledge-intensive sectors as a means of ensuring better integration in the global economy, as well as an upgrading in terms of education and skills for workers in the knowledge industries. However, what demarcated this policy from any of its predecessors was its long run intention to reconfigure the higher education sector not as a lubricant of economic development but as one legitimate revenue earning sector of the economy. Much of the thinking that led to the adoption of this policy was inspired by a consideration of global student mobility figures that in 2006 was estimated at 2.7 million (Verbik and Lasanowski 2007). Based on the business park prototype developed successfully in other areas of economy embodied in the “build, operate, and transfer model,” the government financed the construction of three state-of-the-art campuses which was intended to house foreign private providers incentivized by generous taxation policies. Because the government saw in international privatization the ideal response to expanding higher education at relatively lower cost and to subverting the risk aversive nature of local private enterprise (HRDC 2007), it pushed a supply-led policy.

The major economic premise was that supply of higher education would create its own demand. Unlike the South East Asian models which generated demand-based preference on the qualitative robustness of the national educational system painstakingly achieved through the careful consolidation of its primary and secondary schooling outcomes as well as the quality of teaching and research, the Mauritian international demand tagline was to access a first world education at a lower cost in a pleasant secure environment in a developing country. Mauritius, it is argued, had the profile to be an attractive higher education destination for the regional market. Its political stability, multilingualism, culturally diverse population, and its relatively broad range of private and public providers that have well-established international partnerships, academic staff with adequate international experiences, and a range of programs spanning diverse professional fields, were foregrounded. Consolidation of these assets was to be achieved by means of developing partnerships with international institutions of high standing through joint and double awards. The target set was to reach a tertiary enrolment ratio of 45% locally by 2015 and to recruit some 100,000 international students by the next decade. This target was not considered incompatible with extending higher education provisions to the emergent middle class as any possible tension between local and international demand was to be alleviated through provision of distance education (DE).

Higher Education as a Corporation

The latest arrival on the higher educational landscape is the large corporate campus UNICITI from Medine Group, a conglomerate from the defunct sugar industry that has reoriented to higher education. More than a higher education enterprise, UNICITI hub is a mega real estate project designed to offer to private providers the ideal ready-made infrastructure to set shop and create a fully fledged campus with state-of-the-art facilities to international students (Medine 2018).

The dwindling number of private providers gestures perhaps toward an oligarchic tendency where private enterprise with substantial capital will dominate the market by driving out minor providers. Given the nature of investment required to offer services that are compliant with increasingly rigorous quality standards, they are expected to naturally exit the system. The age of the higher education corporate has arrived with the setting up of two branch campuses from the two main exporters of international higher education: the UK and Australia.

Institutional Impacts of Policy Moves: Two Case Studies

In this section, we analyze how policy moves at a macro level were articulated and integrated in the policies, processes, and outcomes of two institutions: The University of Mauritius and the Middlesex Mauritius Branch Campus. The first mentioned is the flagship university, the largest provider of tertiary education which has weathered government policies through the five decades after independence offering an ideal context to examine institutional responses. The second case study is a private branch campus that was chosen to represent how PSEIs are constructing their understanding and response to these overarching policies. We selected Middlesex University not only because it is the longest lasting branch campus but is also evolved in its strategy to take advantage of policy shifts.

Case One: The University of Mauritius

The first building to rise on what is known as the Reduit Campus was the College of Agriculture in 1923, the predecessor of the University of Mauritius set up just before the country achieved independence in 1973. Just as many national universities set up in post-colonial Africa, it had a developmental agenda to assist in the development of manpower. Subsequently, other departments were added: Law and Management, in the first instance to secure a strong administration, a faculty of industrial technology (later engineering) and medicine subsequently. The university experienced a set of structural reforms designed to align its functioning to the changing economic profile of the island. The major restructuring exercise followed the Visitor’s Report of February 2013 (UoM 2019). From provision of in-service courses in the early 1980s, the UoM gained progressively the status of a fully fledged university spread over six faculties (Agriculture, Engineering, Information, Communication and Digital Technologies, Law and Management Science, Humanities and Social Sciences) and four centers (Centre for Innovative and Lifelong Learning, Centre for information and Communication and Digital Technology Systems, Centre for Biomedical and Biomaterials Research, Centre for Research on Slavery and Indenture). Till date the university accommodates some 9000 students spread across 6 faculties with 300 academic staff (UOM 2019).

The major funding source is the government through the TEC. In 2018, this budget amounted to MUR 640 million that represents two-thirds of total government allocation to tertiary institutions (TEC 2018). Since it is not allowed to charge tuition fees on full-time undergraduate programs unlike the three other public universities, it has to be dependent on state funding since the bulk of its student population is at undergraduate level. This is unlike the UTM, for example, which is allowed to charge tuition fees at undergraduate level. This restriction on its fee policy has proved over the years to be costly to the University in circumstances where the government decided to expand access in all public TEIs.

Its challenging financial situation coupled with the expectations of being a leading institution in the creation of the knowledge hub led the University to set up the UOM Trust in October 2006 (UoM 2019). The Trust could set up any number of private entities “to carry out such other programs and activities as a source of superior knowledge and expertise,” but its major objective was to generate funds for specific projects by promoting the consultancy services through closer connection with industry.

In the year 2007–2008, the university faced a major financial crisis that compelled it to increase its offer of the number of seats from 2700 to 4000 (All Africa 2008). While the crisis brought to public scrutiny a number of issues that plagued the university in its management of financial priorities, it also highlights the recurrent paradoxes between the ambitions of the university in terms of positioning itself as a research-led university and the financial investment this would require as a percentage of the University budget. The proportion of its current budget which is spent on operational expenses (out of which staff salaries absorbed the largest component) (Gokulsingh 2014) is working against the setting up of strong research infrastructure and incentives to internally improve and mobilize research capacities.

The combination of declining state funding and pressure for enrolment added to the vexing question of guaranteeing the quality of student experience. The first quality audit report had the following comment to make:

“The University should develop appropriate systems for appraising performance of lecturers and develop performance indicators for assessing teaching and learning.” (TEC 2005, p. 4)

The same comment was made in the subsequent two audit reports (TEC 2013, 2018) with the suggestion that a peer review of teaching policy be adopted to monitor the quality of teaching and learning. Although the teacher-student ratio turning around 1:30 (TEC 2018) is what could be considered as average, this ratio fluctuated depending on faculties and programs. The recurrence of the comment in every audit cycle is pointing to one clear challenge that massification is posing to universities worldwide in terms of maintenance of standards of teaching. Coupled with this the pressure to keep research publications up for promotion and career advancement needs to be taken into account in the computation of staff workload. This was another area identified by the audit reports as requiring immediate attention but which has not yet been satisfactorily addressed by the University (TEC 2005, 2012, 2018).

The agenda of internationalization was implicitly written within the very core of the university since its inception with the range of partnerships that were engaged in to allow the university to construct its academic portfolio and develop its strategic orientations (UoM 2019). To date the university is signatory of 70 memorandums of understanding with no less than ten different countries. These MoU cover a wide range of activities from teaching and learning to technical assistance. However, as indicated in section above, in terms of enrolment, the degree of internationalization remains resolutely insignificant despite its vision: “To be one of the leading international tertiary education providers and a research-led university” (UoM 2019).

With the increasing number of private providers with the trump card of an international degree, the University through the UoM Trust pursued the twin agenda of privatization and internationalization. In 2010, the Trust created another private entity UoM Enterprise which partnered up with the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) to offer a range of innovative programs from law to architecture and construction for which tuition fees could be charged. Currently, UoM Enterprise has 157 registered students, and the Trust that runs courses for which tuition fees can be charged has a roll of 225 students. Combined figures for registered students on the courses run by UoM private entities are equivalent to those of a few private PSEIs.

The response of the University of Mauritius to the tripartite drivers of massification, internationalization, and privatization has been to create two organizations that would respond to last two agendas, while the public university continues to bow down against the will of the majority of its staff to the massification regime (Gokulsing 2014; Ramtohul 2016; Roopund 2018). This move which we term as “institutional transmutation” allows the university to creatively meet the competing challenges set. These are technically sub-organizations that function outside the parameters of the public sphere but are vital to UoM’s survival. Data on the funds generated through both UoM Trust and UoM Enterprise are outside the purview of public disclosure. Neither can an inference be made on how such funds could be tied to specific projects or support the research agenda of the university that is another key area indicated as needing more systematic and organized efforts (UoM 2019).

The case of the University of Mauritius is illustrative of how the tensions created by what officialized policy interpret as compatible feasible agendas, which in practice generate irreconcilable demands within staff engagement and delivery. The university has been directed to embodying a kind of schizophrenic identities, split between adopting national policy imperatives as a public entity but simultaneously adopting pragmatic and feasible operational financial private institutional characteristics. Which entity of the university will become the dominant or the subservient in time is a matter of conjecture.

Case Two: Middlesex International Ltd. (Mauritius)

The multinational institution of Middlesex University, acting like a global corporation, was first set up in Dubai in 2005. This internationalization agenda featured early in the strategic plan of the London-based institution which achieved university status in 1992 (Middlesex International Ltd 2016). Mauritius became the second offshore campus set up in 2010 sharing premises with Jagadguru Sri Shivarathreeshwara Academy of Technical Education from India. In 2011, they had a combined enrolment of 291 (TEC 2013). In 2013 Middlesex University operations spread to Malta within the Mediterranean context. In 2017, Middlesex relocated within Mauritius into the UNICITI hub, a state-of-the-art campus, set up to accommodate international private providers. Till date, Middlesex accounts for 1000 students on its Indian Ocean island campus. One foundation course, 15 undergraduate, and 9 postgraduate courses are offered to 180 international students out of which 94 come from Nigeria, 24 from Tanzania, and 10 from Zimbabwe. Sixty six students are on part-time mode of study meaning that some 306 students in full-time study after 7 years of operation. Middlesex Mauritius considers that the establishment of the campus is a success although the Dubai campus has now crossed the 1000 enrolment milestone.

The experience of British offshore campuses on the Mauritian soil does not reveal a positive record of accomplishment. University of Wolverhampton branch campus set up in 2012 expressed the vision for the Mauritius campus to become the African hub for Wolverhampton and providing an international experience to both staff and students of the university (Morgan 2015). It closed before completing its fourth year in operation. Similarly, Aberystwyth branch campus set up in 2015 incurred a loss of £200,000 in the first year in collaboration with Boston campus, the local partnering institution. It registered a total number of 106 students in 2 years of operation on a campus designed to accommodate 2000 students (Mariaye and Samuel 2018).

Unlike its contemporaries, Middlesex University has the merit of having crafted for itself a different trajectory in terms of growth and development although the enrolment figures are not yet adequate to ensure sustainability. The strategy was to align itself completely to the buy in motto that the knowledge hub policy had promoted in terms of earning a British degree closer to home for prospective applicants of the African continent. The lower living cost element was to be factored in to tilt decisions in favor of Mauritius generally and Middlesex specifically as an ideal destination of value for money. The website for Middlesex Mauritius reads as “Study in Paradise,” and the presentation of the campus as a vibrant highly internationalized choice works in tandem with the attraction of a highly rated British University whose status, as an international university with close connection with the labor market, seem to guarantee speedy employment (Middlesex International Ltd 2016). The branding process for the Mauritian campus combines elements of peaceful safe democracy with a multicultural population and a long tradition of successful higher education history with the international recognition brought by an acclaimed research culture and highly rated output.

The decision to move to the UNICITI hub is a strategic partnership with Medine (a large local business enterprise) to be part of a larger university village with accommodation facilities for students (Middlesex University 2017). The absence of proper residential facilities for students was signaled as one of the impediments for the development of a student hub on the island (Motala and Kinser 2017; Mariaye and Samuel 2018). By integrating the campus designed to accommodate all private international higher education providers, Middlesex is not only harnessing resources but the synergistic effects of marketing the campus as an African/regional gateway to European higher education.

The pressure at the moment for Middlesex Mauritius, as for all branch campuses which endorsed local governments’ campaigns to internationalize higher education, is to prove sustainability before the initial subsidy from the main overseas campus ran out. The litmus test would be to cross the 1000 target student recruitment in a sustainable way. The latest figures appear to gesture toward Middlesex international to be moving in that direction.

The enrolment numbers compiled in the annual tertiary participation documents from TEC since inception are given below (Fig. 1):
Fig. 1

Enrolment rates at Middlesex Mauritius. (Source: TEC 2019)

While the above graph suggests healthy prospect for Middlesex University as an international provider within the Mauritius context, there are currently signs that tertiary education enrolments more generally have plateaued in terms of local university student recruitment (TEC 2019). The case of this specific university provider should be read in conjunction to shifts within the wider Mauritian HE landscape. A number of mitigating factors can account for a seemingly improved but questionable sustainable scenario for private providers. First, the Mauritian school enrolment rates are also spiraling down because of an ageing population (linked to a lower birth rate). Second, the graduate market has saturated with high rates of graduate unemployment occasioned by the mismatch between labor market demands and the outcomes of tertiary education (Mariaye and Samuel 2018). Third, the latest government policy of free undergraduate education in all PFIs is likely to occasion an increase in the opportunity cost of private higher education institution (Mohamedbhai 2019).

Increase in enrolment will either emanate from the regional market or from a diversification of courses toward more professional courses to increase recruitment, but strategies for local recruitments face a ceiling on account of the inherent smallness of the market which is already crowded with private providers. The fact that other British branch campuses have closed also plays in favor of Middlesex International given that it is the only fully private British campus in Mauritius.

The internationalization option will thus depend on the success of a more aggressive regional campaign. But there are limits there to be expected as well. One is the fact that a British degree may be too expensive for the middle class in many Anglophone African countries. Those who can afford it may prefer to study in the UK. The rise of distance education (DE) and the possibility of accessing an international degree online may render the aspiration of conquering the regional market more difficult. An examination of the profile of countries that constitute the niche recruitment countries reveals that many prospective students may struggle to pay the fees as also indicated in the informal forums where they interact. The government has amended the law to allow foreign students to work, but the effectiveness of this measure in attracting international students will be challenged on account of the high youth unemployment in Mauritius (Government of Mauritius 2019).

The deeper issue, however, remains the entry requirements of prospective students from countries where secondary schooling does not provide the required knowledge and skills to succeed at tertiary level. Motala and Kinser (2017) signal that many private providers have gone on recruitment sprees on the strength of liberal entry recruitments. Middlesex appears to have found a middle ground with a foundation (bridging) course. Increasing the institutional portfolio is another dimension of the strategy to ensure sustainability. The diverging into markets in Law and Applied Psychology (TEC 2019) at first sight appears to be paying off.

The case of Middlesex Mauritius branch campus thus illustrates the set of challenges that higher education policy moves involve for international providers as well as their aspirations and responses. In other small state contexts like Singapore and Hong Kong, transnational education could be seamlessly grafted on an already-strong, vibrant, and research-led local higher education sector while adding value to its international standing. In Mauritius, local higher education was struggling in terms of international reputation and visibility; transnational education is its value added. The vexing question is whether this is sufficient to enact the vision of a knowledge hub.

Conclusion: Creative Growth, Restructuring, and Re-Imaginations of HE

In this section, we wish to offer reflections on the responses of the tertiary education sector in Mauritius at this stage of its intended journey to become a knowledge hub. First and foremost, we claim massification and privatization have been the dominant drivers of the evolution of the tertiary sector in Mauritius. Internationalization is at an embryonic stage considering relatively low rates of international student enrolment.

The first decade after the adoption of the knowledge hub revealed all the teething problems to be expected especially in a context where local higher education was in the process of readjusting to the local demands of massification and the attendant opportunities and challenges. The view that more strategic planning should have preceded the process of strengthening public institutions to enable them to develop a shared policy on both massification and internationalization has been expressed in the literature (Knight 2004; Motala and Kinser 2017; Mariaye and Samuel 2018). The Higher Education Act that came into effect in 2018 is an attempt to repair this strategic oversight by rationalizing the sector to minimize competition and avoid duplication among PFIs in the current climate of financial stringency and strengthen the regulatory framework for both public and private institutions. But there are deeper issues at hand related to how a range of institutions are responding to the new entrepreneurial responsibility being thrust in their lap.

Massification is a politically attractive agenda, but how it is strategized, structured, and managed is key to its success. The possible backwash effect of unbridled massification on the job market also needs to be considered with reserve salaries of graduates having increased. There is perhaps another logic of massification at play that understands the demand for graduate education as not being in step necessarily with labor market signals. The premiums associated with being a graduate are not always limited to higher earning potential but also to enhanced social status and prestige. Thus, the net effect of contradictory forces acting upon the demand of higher education is as yet unpredictable.

While PFIs experience some internal resistance to what is constructed as a state imposition for opening access to the maximum number of students, they are compelled to work with new dictates of state patronage and find new ways to quantitatively legitimize their position within the landscape. In the process, they develop an organizational hybridity of two dialogical entities: the old elite, faculty-governed university (modeled after the colonial legacies of Oxford and Cambridge Universities), and the new polyglot university (which is both subject to state control in its public operations and corporatized in its private offerings). This global neoliberal orthodoxy of pro-competition has been largely borrowed from the successes of Asian contexts and used to transform the Mauritian higher education systems and led to a restructuring of higher education governance along the lines of internationalization, massification, privatization, and corporatization.

As seen in the case of the UoM, creating new entities that would allow a more decentralized management of its operations is an example of how universities are dealing with the problem of growing beyond structural capacity and maintaining managerial effectiveness. The case of the Middlesex International Ltd. (Mauritius) is an example of corporate collaborative growth with other private institutions where capital and other resources are federated to benefit from economies of scale.

We posit that in an age of massification, two forms of organizational growth can be experienced. One of which we term as “internally split growth” process which is occasioned because size threatens to compromise efficiency and effectiveness leading to diseconomies. It is a process where an organization either subdivides into distinct independent entities that can choose to function in a completely different competitive environment. The second is “externally concerted growth” whereby an organization can make the decision to collaborate with a collective on a strategy to share the market as in the case of Middlesex setting up in the same space as its competitors.

The evidence invoked in this chapter coupled with experience of countries like Vietnam (London 2016) which also seeks to position itself as a knowledge hub point toward the contradictions and asymmetries which emerge with such accelerated projects of “growing a knowledge hub.” While privatization may arguably extend capacity and increase the tertiary enrolment ratio to the targeted 50% which is the standard milestone for successful massification (Trow 2016), it will not enable the leap from student hub to knowledge hub unless there is a deliberate move to upscale or incentivize institutional engagement in high-quality research.

For PFIs, which may have more established research capacity, infrastructure, and cultures, creative growth may be imagined through its corporate subentities that will provide it with an opportunity to commercialize the outcomes of its research as a means to sustain its research portfolio even in the face of declining state funding. This hybrid identity of public tertiary education as public and private entity is encouraged by policy with the underlying assumption that partial incorporation of HEIs can be managed through appropriate separation and devolution of power of university operations. It is assumed PFIs will be able to cash in on its research infrastructure and expertise in science and technology-related fields, an area where competition with PSEIs is minimal in Mauritius. However, this will imply a dual governance system where a significant part of the research agenda will come to be increasingly guided by the commercial interests of the private sector. How the risks of asymmetries of power are managed will depend of the quality and structures of governance that are set up to maintain adequate balance between the pursuit of public good and the service of private sector interests.

The accelerated growth process into a knowledge hub within the Mauritian situated context was to be supported by privatization. However, scant attention was paid to the capacity of the private providers to access external expertise in building a reservoir of local skills to frame, develop, and sustain a research agenda. The costs and opportunity costs of training a fully functional academic are high in terms of time and resources of the institution and encourage a range of malpractices such as moonlighting by staff in PFIs all of which compromise the quality of student learning. In a small island state where the number of doctoral graduates remains low, poaching staff from PFIs is a common strategy to accelerate growth within the private sector. The deficit in terms of qualified staff to service the sector will need to be addressed in more ways that are creative if the academic health of the sector is to be maintained. Staff exchange/enrichment policies and schemes with international partners will revitalize both teaching and research and serve the internationalization agenda.

The case of Mauritius resonates with the experience of many South East Asian countries that are seduced by the prospects of achieving a political, social, and economic vision through higher education. This chapter argues that although the triple processes of massification, privatization, and internationalization can present reconfiguration of the tertiary sector as inevitable and even desirable, these need to be tempered by continuous and ongoing consideration of how such re-imagining integrate with the higher political purposes of tertiary education. More importantly, the costs of the consequences of being guided by purely by neoliberalist and managerialist doctrines and practices have predictable impacts on the quality of learning, students and academics empowerment, and democratic governance.

The above-discussed conversion of PFIs through partial incorporation is also maybe new to contexts like Mauritius, but they represent the set of increasingly popular global higher education practices that are rewriting the public-private relationship and redefining the values within the public sector. Internationalization of higher education is thus not only about the transnationalized profile of students and staff or the international standing of local providers, but more importantly it is about the legitimization of western conceptions of what university should become and how it should be governed leading to an increasingly hegemonized understanding of how higher education should be constructed and enacted.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Mauritius Institute of EducationReduitMauritius
  2. 2.School of EducationUniversity of KwaZulu-NatalDurbanSouth Africa

Section editors and affiliations

  • Leena Chandran Wadia
    • 1
  1. 1.Observer Research FoundationMumbaiIndia

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