A class of its own

One sugar con­glom­er­ate is di­ver­si­fy­ing into an ed­u­ca­tion hub, aim­ing to lure African stu­dents with the prom­ise of a Euro­pean de­gree for less

The Africa Report - - COUNTRY FOCUS - Ni­cholas Nor­brook in Flic-en-flac

1,524 in­ter­na­tional stu­dents were in Mau­ri­tian uni­ver­si­ties in 2015, with 236 from South Africa

Frank – not his real name – is a stu­dent from Uganda who is in the se­cond year of a master’s course in com­puter net­work de­sign at the Mau­ri­tian cam­pus of the UK’S Mid­dle­sex Univer­sity. “It’s kind of quiet,” he says. “I have al­ready done all the bars around here, and it is still the first week of term.” Whether Frank’s par­ents ap­prove of the lack of dis­trac­tion is un­known. But the as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of Mid­dle­sex Univer­sity Mau­ri­tius, Dominique Ar­landa, cer­tainly ap­proves of her new cam­pus. A gag­gle of stu­dents hang around the com­mon spa­ces, two of them riff­ing on gui­tar and bass. The smell of new build­ing hangs in the air. The lec­ture the­atre is com­fort­able and state-of-theart. “Last year [be­fore they came to the new cam­pus] we were burst­ing at the seams. We even had to run classes on a Satur­day,” says Ar­landa. The ex­pan­sion al­lows the univer­sity to of­fer new cour­ses in law and nurs­ing, and an in­ter­na­tional foun­da­tion pro­gramme to pre­pare for a de­gree-level course. Across the road from the cam­pus, work­ers are rac­ing to fin­ish a sports cen­tre be­fore the open­ing in Novem­ber, with an Olympic-length pool, bas­ket­ball and five-a-side courts and a foot­ball pitch. From the top of the club house, sugar cane fields slope gen­tly slope down to the pic­turesque Flic-en-flac beach. For the mo­ment Mid­dle­sex stu­dents have all this to them­selves, but the Unic­iti cam­pus is de­signed to host sev­eral ed­u­ca­tional es­tab­lish­ments, shar­ing the sports fa­cil­i­ties and restau­rant.

NOT JUST A UNIVER­SITY

“There is a wider, pro-Africa phi­los­o­phy here, [it’s not] just a univer­sity,” says Thierry Sauzier, the newly minted chief ex­ec­u­tive of Me­dine Group, which is build­ing the ed­u­ca­tion hub. An old Mau­ri­tian con­glom­er­ate, its goal is to cre­ate a ‘knowl­edge clus­ter’ for Mau­ri­tius. Me­dine will make money out of prop­erty sur­round­ing the cam­pus; stu­dents will shop at the mall and live in ac­com­mo­da­tion cre­ated by Me­dine. Sa uzi er says ed­u­cat­ing African grad­u­ates in Mau­ri­tius will ben­e­fit the con­ti­nent. Whereas an African stu­dent who leaves to study in Europe or the US will of­ten end up stay­ing on af­ter, those who study in Mau­ri­tius are likely to re­turn home. “There is a huge short­age of skills in Africa and a real prob­lem with tal­ent-poach­ing,” says Sauzier. He is try­ing to per­suade cor­po­rates to think about send­ing their lo­cal staff for de­grees in Mau­ri­tius as a way of keep­ing ex­pa­tri­ate worker costs down. That is of­ten a dif­fi­cult ask: “Hu­man re­sources direc­tors of­ten have a two-three-year time hori­zon. They need to start see­ing things over the long term.” Me­dine first had the idea of cre­at­ing a ‘smart city’ on the land of its former sugar cane plan­ta­tions. Fig­ur­ing out who would live there was more dif­fi­cult : “Build­ing a city in Singapore and Mau­ri­tius is not the same thing,” says Sauzier. “In Singapore, you are in the mid­dle of a mar­ket of 350 mil­lion peo­ple,” whereas Mau­ri­tius is in the mid­dle of the In­dian Ocean. The choice of ed­u­ca­tion came from look­ing to the mar­ket on the doorstep: con­ti­nen­tal Africa. To at­tract stu­dents, Me­dine has pitched prices at around half of the cost of a de­gree in Europe, in­clud­ing liv­ing costs. Study­ing at Unic­iti will cost around Rs250,000 ($7,300) per year, it says. Frank’s class­mate, Nathan Phiri of Malawi, says he is very happy with the tran­quil­lity of his sur­round­ings and the qual­ity of the lec­tures. “I am work­ing on get­ting gov­ern­ment ser­vices to peo­ple on their mo­bile phones, and get­ting cheaper net­works are key.” An af­ford­able de­gree should help him reach those goals.

A smell of fresh wood rather than musty books as stu­dents set­tle in to Mid­dle­sex Univer­sity’s new Mau­ri­tius cam­pus

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