Monday, 17 February 2020

Key achievements over the past three years (Part II)

Streamlining approval procedures of MoUs and Agreements

To address the red-taping issues related to the processing of MoUs and Agreements, while ensuring that key procedures are adhered to within the principles of good governance, the office of Planning & Resources has reviewed the procedure in consultation with the key stakeholders to streamline the processes and administrative burden to improve efficiencies at all levels.

The Information Technology Strategy Committee (ITSC)

The ITSC (previously Information Technology Advisory Committee) is chaired by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (P&R). The main terms of reference of the ITSC is to serve as a platform for brainstorming about strategic IT to support the educational strategy of the University and to act as an an advisory body to the University with respect to the use of ICTs to improve business processes. The work of the committee for the past three years has been to focus on the improvement of admissions and student application processes, including online payment via credit card and upload of supporting documents for international students. The ITSC also looks at different IT policies and their institutional and legal implications prior to recommending to the Council for approval (e.g. Cyber-Insurance policy and IT Business Continuity Plan). The UoM dashboard is also operational to provide real-time information to decision-makers during the marketing phases of our courses preceding each intake. 

The GTES Policy Framework 
The Graduate Training Employment Scheme is a project of Government through the HRDC to promote re-skilling of unemployed graduates in key sectors and to guarantee them employment in the private sector. This was a multi-impact project which would improve the employability of young unemployed graduates, promote industry-academia partnerships and generating revenue. In 2017, the University of Mauritius was lagging behind in its involvement in GTES for a lack of policy framework in place. The approval of the GTES policy framework by the Council kickstarted the University’s involvement in the GTES project. The total approved project value under GTES by the HRDC is approximately MUR 18M. A collaboration with another IT company name is already underway. Ceridian will fund the setting up of a digital innovation lab at the University. A project in AI training worth 7M has been approved in February 2020. This brings our fund-raising total on GTES projects alone, to 25M MUR over the past three years, while it was practically NIL from 2015-2017. 

Joint offer of MA Educational Leadership with University of Seychelles
This is a pioneering and innovative educational project, whereby a full-fledged fee-paying Masters programme has been mounted solely from open educational resources and offered fully online in collaboration with University of Seychelles. In the first intake, approximately 40 educators (including 25 Seychelles educators) embarked on this programme. The experience from this innovative online project will be used as steppingstone to widen the eLearning initiative of the University. 
Achieving Financial Resilience

The different strategies put forward by the Senior Management team with respect to budget preparation, promotion of revenue generating activities, efficient marketing to increase postgraduate and international student numbers, and improvement of efficiency at different levels has resulted in an accounting surplus in 2019 in the official accounts, as approved by Council of the University after recent struggles of the University to cope with recurring budgetary deficits.

The Technology-Enabled Learning Policy

The eLearning initiative started in 2001 at the University of Mauritius through the Virtual Centre for Innovative Learning Technologies as the pioneer of ICTs in Education in Mauritius. However, the University has struggled over the years, with respect to the direction for education technologies, and to promote the uptake of innovative technology-enabled pedagogies by academics of the institution. In 2017, the technology-enabled learning policy developed by the P&R office in consultation with CILL and Faculties was finally approved at Council. This policy is an important enabler for the success of the Learner-Centered Credit System (LCCS) initiative, led by the office of Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academia). It is also an important aspect of the University’s plan to diversify revenue streams through online learning provisions over the African region.
Innovative Marketing Strategies

The strategic engagement with the press through regular requests for coverage of events, press releases, the use of social media such as Facebook to promote the University’s activities and interviews of different officers of the University contributed to restore a positive perception of the general public towards the institution. The University’s activities were also promoted through the different recruitment agents and video interviews of high-profile Alumni of the UoM. The University has been having recourse to professional digital marketing companies such as Keystone Academic Solutions to market our high-end dual degree courses with University of Arizona and Paris-Seine. Emphasis has been laid both on the local and international markets with respect to brand promotion and upholding of the University’s image and reputation as the premier National University of Mauritius. The impact of our actions has been clearly demonstrated by the gradual rise in the number of international student applications and increasing number of requests from different European institutions to participate in Erasmus+ programmes with them.

Key achievements over the past three years (Part 1)

Three years are nearly over. Roughly two months remain before my present term as Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Planning & Resources) comes to an end. From that point, there are two possible routes - a renewal for another final term of three years, or I get back to my position as Associate Professor at the Centre for Innovative and Lifelong Learning (CILL). Either way, I am quite happy to take up the challenge again or to work to become a Professor, the ultimate target of any academic career. Some of the key achievements of my office during the past three years are highlighted below:

Pre-2017. The University was undergoing a difficult phase and the image of the University had been compromised because of bad press. The Strategic Plan 2015-2020 was approved, but key policies to foster the development of the strategic directions were not in place. The Finances of the University were always in the red, and this has resulted in unwanted negative publicity for the institution. There was practically no marketing strategy, except the classic press adverts, and sporadic uses of social media. Fund-raising was at its lowest point and the office of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Planning & Resources) was often wrongly perceived on this aspect. Staff morale overall was low and the yearly training vote for non-academic staff was not used to the maximum, while the academic community was exasperated at the lack of research funding available and the suspension of the conference attendance scheme for approximately two years. Red taping at the institutional level was so high that the University was inefficient in multiple dimensions, for instance, from the approval of Memorandum of Understanding to the signature of simple GTES agreements. Postgraduate student numbers were on the steep decline while fees charged kept increasing, without a proper horizon scanning of the environment surrounding us and the strategies that were being adopted by other TEIs.

Flexible and Competitive Fee Structure

During the academic years preceding the 2017/2018 intake, the fee structure of the UoM postgraduate programs was on the high side and kept increasing every year, to compensate for the University’s policy to maintain undergraduate general fees constantly. This policy of increasing postgraduate fees was a detriment to the overall student intake at postgraduate levels, while the policy was to actually focus on more postgraduate programmes. As from the academic year 2017/2018, the University authorities successfully managed to review the General Fees upwards. This provided an opportunity for the office of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Planning & Resources) to revise the postgraduate fee structures for local and international students, and the undergraduate fee structures for international students.

The International Affairs Office and the International Strategy

On its meeting of 31st August 2017, Council approved the Strategy and the setting up of an International Affairs Office (IAO) at the University of Mauritius to drive and implement actions and initiatives to enhance the global visibility of the UoM. The International Affairs Office is actually operating under the P&R office, with only one Administrative Manager and one Administrative Officer. Since the setting of the International Affairs office, a number of key indicators have been on the rise namely the number of Erasmus+ Exchange Agreements and staff exchanges, the number of international students, and the hosting of visitors and delegations. In the context of the Internationalization of the University, and as outcomes of the different participation of the Pro VC P&R office in international student recruitment fairs, the University has approved the policy principle to work with recruitment agents to increase the international student population of the University. 

University Net Revenue from Consultancies (UDF)

Consultancy activities constitute an important aspect of the University’s activities that generate additional revenue for the University and for the academic and support staff. The opportunity to engage in Consultancies results in benefits that are multifold for the staff community. The first benefit is that it can improve job satisfaction and leads to improved engagement and commitment to one’s job, increased revenue for the staff, better staff retention and contributes to the reputation of the University on the professional market. The focus on improved services to the academic and non-academic staff community has led to an increase in the overall consultancy contracts value over the past years. As a consequence, there has been a steady increase in the revenue for the UoM that contributes towards the University Development Fund (UDF).  

Setting-up of the Office of Marketing and Externally Funded Activities

This was a recommendation of the visitor’s report. The setting up of the office has been approved by the Council. Since 2017, the University has been engaging itself in innovative and more impactful ways of marketing its various activities and services. The re-establishment of the “Consultancy Watch” helped the unit in identifying key opportunities for project bidding. The Consultancy activities of the University has experienced a consequent increase in total project value since 2017. Consultancy enhances the reputation of the University and brings funds to the University Development Fund, which has been used for key development projects of the University.

Friday, 20 December 2019

Keynote Speech @ 2019 MTMI International Conference on Emerging Issues in Business, Technology and Applied Sciences

The title of the presentation was "Digital Workforce Needs, and the Role of Universities in the New World - The Case of the University of Mauritius". The 21st Century workplace requires individuals with different skills and competencies to operate in rapidly evolving technology-enabled environments. As per the World Economic Forum these 7 technologies are actually changing our world – and this is what is being termed as the 4th Industrial Revolution. These are Big Data and AI, Digital Health, Large Scale Digitization, Internet of Things, Blockchain, Digital Learning and Wearable Internet. Traditional curricula dispensed by Universities are seen to be too static and rigid to respond to these needs. Industry often criticizes academia for not doing enough to address the skills gaps, while Universities often counter-argue that their role is not to produce a workforce for the short term but to prepare individuals for life. Both stands of industry and academia are not wrong per se, but they can only be seen as half-truths as long as they each maintain their stand without a critical introspection.

However, it is important to recall that Universities in the developing countries were mainly developmental, to produce a workforce capable to contribute to the socio-economic development. It is a fact that the requirements for current jobs have changed and the new workforce has to operate on the frontiers of disciplines. Furthermore, state of the art technologies such as Internet of things and artificial intelligence changing the way professionals work in different sectors. It is therefore imperative that Universities review their curriculum models to address these emerging needs and prepare individuals for the jobs of the future. Universities are also facing other types of challenges with respect to their long-term sustainability with the emergence of other credible alternatives (for e.g. MOOCs and open badges as credentials) to higher education. Many employers are no longer requiring formal higher education qualifications as pre-requisites to be hired for jobs. Technologies such as augmented/virtual reality, video-conferencing and digital learning platforms are changing the way students learn. The content is no longer at the centre of the teaching and learning process. High quality content is available as open educational resources in a variety of formats. Therefore, Universities cannot keep on teaching using the same traditional methods. 

Universities, especially in developing countries, are therefore bound to be disrupted in the digital world driven by knowledge societies and economies. The key question therefore is how can Universities in the developing world adapt to these evolutions and address the key challenges they are facing to still be relevant in the digital age, sustainable and prepare the workforce for the future of work? The rethinking of the role of our Universities is therefore important and it is clear that the status-quo can no longer be envisaged. In so doing, Universities can bridge the skills gap and prepare the digital workforce of the future in collaboration with industries and embrace innovation while at the same time maintain a balance within the so-called “ecosystem of disruption” so as not to deviate from their core values, independence and academic freedom. In this presentation, we look at the digital transformation of Universities within the triple helix model to promote public-private-academia collaboration and the new approaches to teaching, learning and certification using the University of Mauritius as example.

from M I Santally

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Workshop "Blueprint for the setting up of a Mauritian NREN"

The workshop was held on the 4th December at St Regis Hotel, a beautiful resort situated at Le Morne. Well that was not the most important part! The Vice Prime Minister and our Parent Minister, Hon Leela Devi Dookun-Luchoomun was the main guest for the opening of this workshop jointly organized by the University of Mauritius and the University of Technology, Mauritius. I represented the University in the opening ceremony and made the speech as below.

It is my pleasure to be addressing you today on behalf of the University of Mauritius for this workshop with the theme, I quote “Building a Roadmap for the Establishment of a Mauritian National Research and Education Network (commonly known as NRENs).

NRENs are specialised internet service providers dedicated to supporting the needs of the research and education communities within a country. The primary focus of NRENs is to provide universities and research institutes with high-quality network connectivity and related services by connecting campuses and institutions to each other, and to the rest of the internet. While doing some reading online, I came across a statement, I quote “NRENs have pioneered networks, technologies and services for research and education since the internet's inception”. This is a very commendable achievement indeed. However, I wish to highlight that Technology has a history of ‘perpetual evolution’ and we have to be conscious and aware that the focus cannot solely be on the technology. 

Researchers in education have constantly brought forward the technology paradox, characterizing the fact that technology ever since the radio and the TV were invented we have not really witnessed the so-called education revolution in the way it was meant to be. We have over the years witnessed the same phenomenon with the internet, smartphones, and other technological developments such as Virtual Reality, that demonstrated huge potential, but have never become or have yet to become integral and ubiquitous components of mainstream education.

I still recall some 18 years ago, somewhere around the year 2001-2002, when we started the eLearning initiative at the University of Mauritius, one of the key projects we undertook was the development of an interactive CD for the ambitious Mass Computer Literacy Project of the Government.

Colleagues present here and who know about this project, will no doubt tell you that the real success behind the CPP was neither the technology nor the nice interface or content we developed, but it was about the underlying educational philosophy and the ability of the stakeholders (government, academia, private sector, and the people) to work coherently together to achieve something extraordinary.

This is simply to highlight that while we deploy the technologies, any blueprint has to pay equal or even more emphasis on the human dimension and the tangible impacts of having such networks over the targeted beneficiaries. The networks should not be of machines, and IP addresses only but of people with common interests to promote education through communities of practice in the relevant areas. If policies are conceived in such a way so as to put technology at the service of humanity, then the results will be much more impactful and transformative.

Indeed, this is why collaboration is one of the main recipes for successful NRENs. I am very pleased and thankful to see that close collaboration has been established between the public TEIs, AUF, Ministries of Education, ICT and UbuntuNet Alliance. We are also grateful to the CEO of Zamren and SomaliREN to be present here to share their experiences with us. I am reassured that the NREN by its nature fosters collaboration, it will provide us the opportunities to work together and engage in fruitful exchanges at local, regional and international level.

At the University, we ensure that our Institutional goals through our main strategic thrusts, drive our Information Technology strategy and not vice-versa. To this effect, we have setup an institutional IT Strategy Committee that engages into brainstorming and identification of key policies, strategies and actions that will help the University to maintain a competitive edge and improve efficiency through appropriate process re-engineering.

In terms of our Information Technology capabilities, the University of Mauritius has implemented comprehensive technology solutions to power institutional growth and to improve efficiency within the institution. We have a fully online Student Life Cycle System, an integrated back office system and I am informed that we have also deployed IPv6 on our Internet facing servers. This year we have upgraded our Fibre Optics backbone network to improve our bandwidth. We have also upgraded our Wi-Fi network to achieve practically full WIFI Coverage across the campus.

We are therefore committed to share and contribute to the successful setup of the Mauritian NREN. Our eLibrary which is currently available for access by other public TEIs will be part of the initiative. Industry engagement, which is one of our strategic thrusts, has to be a significant player within the NREN. Over the past three years, our key engagement priorities have been in research, quality education, digital innovation and entrepreneurial activities. We have setup a Digital Technologies incubator and we have established a living lab for innovative pedagogies which is accredited by the European Network of Open Living Labs.

I can personally see here how a convergence of the activities falling under these two entities, can contribute to impactful projects. For instance, the application of of AI-powered techniques such as learning analytics to develop smart learning environments which can lead to improvement of student learning outcomes and achievement in our Universities. I would like here to quote Tom Freston – Co Founder of MTV – “Innovation is taking two things that exist and putting them together in a new way”

On a concluding note, I wish to thank the Honourable Ministers for their unflinching support and presence, the NREN local organising team, all participants, and the speakers of today’s event. With these words, I wish all of you a successful workshop.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

1st Africa University Badminton Championships 2019

I was requested by the Vice-Chancellor to represent him as the Chief Guest for the official launching of the 1st Africa University Badminton Championships 2019. It was nice to see athletes (students) from different African countries and Reunion island. Hereunder the key essence of my speech. Such kind of events align perfectly with our key strategic thrusts related to internationalization of the University, Enhancing our students’ experiences on campus through sports and the promotion of intercultural exchanges. 

We believe that the role of Universities is to provide a holistic education to our youth to make them more complete and capable as individuals to take up the challenges of life. This is why we have reviewed our curriculum model last year to promote a learner-centred approach while injecting significant funds to continuously improve our infrastructure for the benefit of our students.  

Sports is a very important aspect to promote healthy living and to improve the quality of life of our population. A healthy population can contribute better to the development of a country and is an important indicator for prosperity, happiness and well-being. Promoting such a culture among our students and citizens will surely contribute to SDG3 - Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages and SDG 8 - Promote Sustained, Inclusive and Sustainable Economies. Sports play key roles in Gender Equality, the fight against poverty, and social inclusion amongst others.

Sports transcends race, communities, religions and nationalism (yes, i see Nationalism as a key hurdle to achieving global peace) to bring mankind together to overcome hurdles to building global peace and sustainable livelihoods for humanity.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Digital Technologies, Disruption and the role of Universities

To set the context - Between 1985 and 1989, the Cray-2 was the world’s fastest computer. It was roughly the size of a washing machine. Today, a smart watch has twice its capabilities.

While more than 43 % of the world population is connected to the internet with a vast majority of this percentage coming from the developed world, the UN has set the ambitious goal of connecting all the world’s inhabitants to affordable internet by 2020. However, despite the fact that this target looks a bit unrealistic as we near the end of 2019, we have witnessed unprecedented increased access to information, education and global marketplaces, which will empower many people to improve their living conditions and escape poverty. As per the World Economic Forum these 7 technologies are actually changing our world – and this is what is being termed as the 4th Industrial Revolution.
  1. Big Data and Artificial Intelligence
  2. Digital Health
  3. Large Scale Digitization
  4. Internet of Things
  5. Blockchain
  6. Digital Learning
  7. Wearable Internet
So, within a small island context, where we are used to be mainly consumers of technology, we need to transform our environment to become innovators and game changers to address the main challenges related to sustainable development, agriculture, health, education, climate amongst others. We need to look into how can research, innovation and development of digital technologies and innovative applications of same can empower small island states to address key issues related to the SDGs through enhanced partnerships between public – private – government – academia. It is preferable to embrace disruption before getting disrupted.

Some key leading questions for this session that we hope will be covered:

  • How do we maintain such an ecosystem with these key stakeholders to achieve those goals?
  • What are the gaps and how to address gaps related to skills mismatch and the collaboration between academia and the private sector?
  • What type of educational model and curricula that we must focus on?
  • Can we still focus on the same old recipe to achieve a different outcome?
  • What type of transformation our education system has to go through to ensure we remain contextually relevant to the i4.0 era?
There were two keynote speakers and five panelists. Out of the five panelists, three were from industry while two of them represented academia. The keynote speaker, Prof Moran from Curtin University, focused his speech on the role of universities to convert threats related to industry 4.0 into opportunities. He stresses on the role and relevance of Universities in the digital era of disruption while emphasizing on the need to strengthen the partnerships with the private sector. It is however clear that Universities cannot envisage the status-quo scenario. Mr Tan Chee-Peng centred his keynote speech on the importance of a shift in mindset to embrace disruption in the industry 4.0 context. Each of the panelists described key projects and cases from industry on the types of innovation that they were bringing to their own context. Projects on e-Health for example were being undertaken at the level of State Informatics Limited. The representative from Ceridian Mauritius coined the idea of Creativity 1.0 taking over from Industry 4.0. In light with the mindset change as highlighted by Mr Tan Chee-Peng, Mr Mooneegan of Ceridian requested UoM to champion a forum with key stakeholders on Society 5.0.

As a concluding note from the Chair of the session, it was highlighted that we tend often to oversimplify the problem by stating – “Either embrace disruption or be disrupted”, but it was clear from the different speakers that there is much more to look at especially from the perspectives of Universities and their leadership roles in the development of a so-called “ecosystem of disruption”. From that, the need for closer ties between University, Government and the Private Sector becomes more obvious – the triple helix model. However, in so doing a number of ethical issues have to be addressed, as highlighted by the different speakers and at the same time, it is important that Universities do not compromise on their core values, independence and academic freedom.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Internationalisation of Higher Education in Africa : Issues and Opportunities

The UNESCO Symposium on Higher Education was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 24th to 27th July at the Ethiopian Airlines Aviation Academy. The key theme of the conference was Internationalization of Higher Education in Africa and same was addressed through a series of high-level panel discussions and interactions with the participants. One of the sessions was specifically devoted to “Collaborations between African HEIs to contribute towards the SDGs”. A major factor that was highlighted (among other classic factors such as research, engagement with local communities, continuing dialogue with stakeholders, collaboration & exchanges) was the promotion of intra-African mobility. It was highlighted that intra-African mobility was a real short-coming as many African institutions were mainly looking to the north for partnerships and as a result, neglected internationalization within Africa.  

One keynote speaker highlighted, according to him, the key mistakes that African countries were making while focusing on internationalization. He stressed that in so doing, many countries or Higher Education institutions in Africa were merely copying and pasting what was done by other countries mainly in the developed world in terms of their strategy. His main argument was that internationalization within Africa (what he calls Africanization) was a key step towards strengthening Higher Education Systems in Africa globally. The argument was that a power relationship would still hold when African HEIs partner with those in the North which is not necessarily good for developing countries in the long term. Internationalization of HEIs in Africa has to preserve local contexts, identities, cultures and practices and has to result in the export of these to the global world. The downside of internationalization has also been highlighted, such as increased competition for student recruitment, access to research funds and rat-race for publications. Internationalization activities have also been limited to a handful who have the means to travel abroad (e.g. student exchange). 

The internationalization strategy of the University of Mauritius was also presented to the participants of the Masterclass workshop on internationalization and the different components that has been put in place under these strategies. The issue of different secondary educational qualifications within different African countries and their equivalence to meet entry requirements at the University was lengthily discussed and different participants shared their own models and experiences. The moderator highlighted that in the US or UK Universities, they deal with the problem through the Foundation course for African students from those particular countries (who do not have a direct equivalence to match formal entry requirements). While the UNESCO through a presentation regarding conventions for recognition and equivalence of post-secondary educational qualifications in Africa urged countries, who have not yet ratified the convention to do so, it was highlighted that there was a dire need for an African Transnational Qualification Framework that would help address the gaps and harmonize the secondary education qualifications and quality throughout the African community.

The role of Digital Technologies in the internationalization process could not be overlooked and there was a growing consensus among the participants. For a long time, e-learning has been seen as a new form of distance education. However, the emergence of digital technologies, high-performance telecommunications infrastructure has given rise to a completely new dimension to the educational transaction. One speaker coined the idea of having common first year modules for a number of African Universities online to achieve the so-called Africanization of Higher Education. Such modules could be either taught by one lead academic from one University or jointly taught depending on the model in place. Such measures largely made possible by new technologies is a key enabler for internationalization of African universities.