Africa’s Higher Education Hub: Mauritius at a Crossroads

As demand for quality higher education in Africa rises, the term “higher education hub” has been thrown around, looking for takers across the continent. The island of Mauritius is, for many, the front-runner. Mauritius has consistently been working to position itself as such a “hub”: a crossroads for tertiary education, attracting both high-quality international academic institutions and top-tier students from all over the world. Education is already a top government priority in Mauritius, and the island ranks first in UNESCO’s list of African countries for tertiary education enrolment. Add to that its geographical location just a few miles off the east coast of Madagascar, and the island’s cultural and historical ties to Asia and Europe, and Mauritius seems the obvious choice to play host to a new brand of global, affordable, world-class higher education for the continent.

Growing numbers of potential students on the African continent are another reason to sustain the Mauritian higher education project. The demand for quality education in African countries has shot up over the past 15 years, largely owing to the fact that the African middle class has tripled in size over this time. Observers have especially noted a marked rise in higher education activity in sub-Saharan Africa, with SADC students being the most mobile in the world. Although about half of these students go to South Africa for studies, the pull of Mauritius has been hard to ignore over the last five years.

Already, institutions like Middlesex University, the University of Aberystwyth, and the University of Wolverhampton in the UK have set up Mauritian branch campuses. Their aim: offer quality UK degrees to students on the African market at affordable prices. More recently, Médine Education Village, a project backed by Mauritian property giant Médine Group, has created a space for European institutions to set up in Mauritius. These include Vatel International Business School of Hotel and Tourism Management, ESCP Europe Business School and SUPInfo International University. Mauritian institutions have also partnered with international awarding bodies to deliver European degrees: the Mauritius Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Business School offers programs awarded by the Institut d’Administration des Entreprises de Poitiers; and the Analysis Institute of Management offers an Executive MBA awarded by the Université Paris Dauphine and IAE Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne.

Local students at these institutions still far outnumber internationals. The story, though, is different for the newest player on the Mauritian tertiary education scene. African Leadership College (ALC), based in Beau Plan, has already attracted 180 students from 30 African countries for its first cohort. ALC is the Mauritius campus of ALU, a network of universities set up by Fred Swaniker, Founder and CEO of the African Leadership Group, and is one of several ALU campuses to be set up across Africa in the coming years.

ALC and other international tertiary education institutions in Mauritius have a clear mandate: supply the regional market with highly skilled young persons with transferable competencies, a passion for entrepreneurship and an ability to adapt to the rapidly changing demands of the African market. High-demand programs include courses in management, business, and IT, and pathways to the chartered professions (legal, accounting and engineering). Medicine and dentistry programs are now gaining popularity while programs such as hospitality and tourism are long-time high-rankers on the list of professional training options.

Still, competition is rough for the paradise island. With other countries vying for the position, Mauritius is not a shoo-in for Africa’s leading higher education destination. With greater openness on the part of some African countries, there is growing interest on the part of international household names to set up on the continent, like Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh whose College of Engineering recently set up its first overseas location in Kigali, Rwanda.

Mauritius’ comfortable economic rankings in African indices and the cosmopolitanism of its society which seems to effortlessly blend African in with Asian and European, are some of its key selling points. Political stability, a population bilingual in English and French, and its attractiveness to foreign investors still work in its favor. In the end, however, what will truly determine students’ choice of a higher education destination remains quality. And while partnering with some of the big names on the international academic scene certainly adds value to programs, the tangible mark of quality that students aspire to is employability. Even more than having the fancy degree from the world-reputed university, students will tend to choose the programs with strong links to industry and entrepreneurial opportunity – those which make them the most attractive and useful on the job market. And this is the direction in which all potential higher education hubs, including Mauritius, must now start gearing themselves.

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