Saturday, 9 December 2017

Year 2017 in retro….

The end of 2016 marked a landmark battle to keep the Centre for Innovative & Lifelong Learning intact amidst attempts to integrate it in the newly created Faculty of Information, Communication and Digital Technologies. That was the best of all battles I fought with the management of the University since 2014 when CILL was established. 

The year 2017 however was the year of a complete turn-around when I was appointed as Pro VC (Planning & Resources), an appointment which came as a big surprise and completely unexpected. Although I never doubted in my own ability to take up this challenge, the aim behind me sending an application was completely different. I recall my good friend telling me "if you get interview, then it’s a chance to go and tell them what we do at CILL, and what is our vision of a university for the future”. This is what we did and we convinced them it seems…..

April 2017 – when I took over office I kept thinking why there were only two applications for this post, when many of us at this institution were certainly eligible. One thing that I realized though, the challenge was huge, but my previous experience in management and leading CILL and ex-VCILT for 8 years had given me something, which I even did not realize that I had. I knew in fact a lot about how the university functions, and I always used to say – ‘to change the system, you need to be in the system”.

I used to be a rebel thinker and a constant challenger of the traditional ways of doing things (i am still one) which had started to turn the university in a archaic system. I  practically became a non-conformist. I had a different perspective of what the University should be and how it should operate for the 21st Century. I still have one which is quite different from the current reorientation but its worth saying  there are many similarities. I had started to develop my own ideology and philosophy of organisational culture and values that would transform the institution into a better institution, according to me. So now I had become empowered at a higher level to do a number of things that I could not do at the lower level. Of course, I still have a boss (VC) and another colleague Pro VC to convince, but so far so good on a number of things for which I am given the latitude to act.

So what has been achieved in 2017? I will summarize mainly in bullet points covering the most urgent ones, which were pending since more than 3 years and which have been facilitated under my responsibility this year –

  • Decrease in postgraduate fees overall at the university to position the University as a preferred destination for both local and foreign students.
  • Approval of the University Technology-Enabled Learning Policy that remained stagnant since 2015.
  • Establishment of a framework for the University to engage in the Graduate Training Employment Scheme. 
  • Approval of the Internationalisation Strategy for the University to ensure the visibility of the University outside Mauritius (supposed to be approved in 2015).

These four key elements above will hopefully set a solid foundation to ensure the digital transformation of the University as well as ensuring the long-term sustainability of the institution. 

The focus for 2018 will now be as follows:
  • Transforming UoM in a value-driven organisation and developing a values-led culture among employees.
  • Development of an Open Educational Resources Platform for free dissemination of knowledge and content on a national and regional level.
  • Implementation of the technology-enabled policy and upgrade of the eLearning Infrastructure.
  • Capacity-building to train techno-preneurs through the BSc Digital Innovation and Enterprise which is based on a unique innovative pedagogical model.

Friday, 6 October 2017

UoM eLearning Africa 2017 Participation

The University of Mauritius conducted a one-day pre-conference workshop on Wednesday 27th September on Interactive Materials Development using a version of the Rapid eLearning Method conceived by CILL. 32 participants were registered and 19 were present for the workshop. Participants came from a variety of countries over Africa including the US and Europe. Among the participants were a Pro-Chancellor of a University in Nigeria, CEOs of NGOs, academics of Universities and technical support staff from institutions in the African Education Sector. Dr Santally, Pro Vice-Chancellor participated in the Core Dialog session on Thursday 28th September on Foresights and Trends in Higher Education where he made a presentation alongside another speaker from UK. A summary of the session is as follows:
The traditional model of education has been disrupted by a variety of factors, including globalization, the Internet, budget cuts and increased competition from the private sector. What does the future hold in store for us? Using ‘foresight tools’, this session will examine a range of probable, possible and preferable futures. It will also discuss emerging technologies and new trends in eLearning, assessing their potential impact on African education.
The title of the talk was “Trends, Challenges and Scenarios for Higher Education Institutions: Case Study of the University of Mauritius”. That was a very rich session in insights and questions/comments from the attendees. He was also part of the panel discussion on “ICT in Higher Education and Research in Africa” and in another UNESCO panel titled “Follow-up to the 2nd World OER Congress: Moving OER into Policy and Action in the Indian Ocean Commission Members”. He made a presentation on research work undertaken at the University in OER. Specialists from UNESCO (Mr Joe Hironaka), and Prof Daniel Burgos, Deputy VC Universidad Internacional de La Rioja (UNIR), Spain and Sophie Touze from the Open Education Consortium, USA. The key challenge is how to build sustainable educational model around Open Educational Resources.

Mr Halkhoree, Director CITS was also part of a panel of technology in education where he covered the historical evolution of ICTs at the University of Mauritius. The session was titled “How Context Differs across Africa and How It Affects Higher Education”

A summary of the session is as follows:
The local context affects both education in general and the development of eLearning in particular in every African country. Each country faces its own set of difficulties and challenges. Each one has developed different initiatives to add value, as they set about implementing new schemes. In every African country, however, partnership and collaboration are important keys to success. With case studies from Morocco, Mozambique, Sudan, Eritrea and Sierra Leone, this session looks at how collaboration – between institutions, with the private sector or with the Government – has been an important part of implementation in widely differing contexts.
Mrs Sandhya Gunness from CILL also participated in a panel along high profile panelists from our parent Ministry and foreign panelists. The title of the session was “Education in Schools in Context”.
A summary of the session is as follows:
How is the implementation of education policy affected by the local context? Presenters at this session will examine the experience of Zambia, Uganda, Mauritius and Malawi to assess how teachers, planners and administrators are responding to some challenging problems. The session will consider several case studies, giving participants an opportunity to gain insights into the implementation of ICTs in schools, the provision of support for children with learning difficulties, the use of blended learning to support teacher training and the need for increased integration of digital literacy, leadership and awareness of policy goals.
The local and international panelists were overall high profile, and the sessions were very rich in terms of quality exchanges especially when they were held in small breakout rooms. eLearning Africa 2017 provided excellent networking opportunities and avenues for initiating collaborations both at individual researcher and institutional levels. Another positive element for Mauritius is that the local researchers in the related fields from different institutions were retained among the speakers of the event. 

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The International Literacy Day by UNESCO

September 8 was declared International Literacy Day by UNESCO on November 17, 1965. Its aim is, according to UNESCO, to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. The 2017 full-day event took place at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. The theme was “Literacy in a Digital World” and the main objectives were as follows:
  • To reflect on what it means to be literate in increasingly digitally mediated societies.
  • To explore effective policies and programmes for literacy skills development in a digital world; and
  • To explore how digital technologies can support progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal 4, especially Target 4.6 on youth and adult literacy.
There were 4 sessions for the event. Session 1 was about rethinking literacy in a digital world. The key question was “What does it mean to be literate in the highly digital world of the 21st Century? Panelists discussed on the key skills and competencies required in digital economies and societies.

Session 2 showcased panelists who were engaged in promising programmes that were thought of to advance literacy in a digital world. These programmes formed part of the UNESCO International Literacy Prizes 2017.
Session 3 looked at the risks and responses of promoting literacy in a digital world. This session looked into the question of literacy in the digital world through the equity lens, considering both issues an opportunities for inclusion.

The final session was about literacy monitoring and assessment in a digital world. The three main questions that panelists asked in this session were as follows:
  • How can digital tools be used to better measure literacy levels?
  • How can digital skills best be assessed?
  • How can real time data and data analytics advance the monitoring of literacy skills acquisition and management of national information systems?

African Leadership for Knowledge Society Symposium + ADSI Accreditation Meeting @ GESCI, Nairobi – Kenya

The workshop was held on the 30th September, at the Golden Tulip Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya and telecast live on Facebook. The Keynote speaker was Dr Morne Mostert who challenged the audience with some key reflective questions on decision-making to shape the future.

Some key questions/reflections raised by Dr Mostert were:

  • The quality of your thinking drives the quality of your future – (quality of cognitive processing) – if someone outsmarts you he will design a future for you.
  • How do we discern the noise-to-signal ratio?
  • What are we learning from our skunk works through experimentation and rapid-prototying? What are we signaling to future generations? What is the evidence that we are anticipatory leaders?
  • The Economist – May 2000 (Africa – The Hopeless Continent) – 2010 – Africa is Rising – Aspiring Africa – Making Africa Work – 2016 : Africa’s Fragile Democracies (this is where the idea of a think tank incubator emerged)

Mr Auckbur, Director e-education and TVET from the parent Ministry was also involved as a panelist, and I spoke about the GESCI-UOM partnerships and plans of our future collaboration with them. The idea was also to extend UoM’s role in the Leadership for Sustainable Development Platform where GESCI will look for an academic host for the platform for a period of two years (by rotation among partners academic institutions). The idea of a Thinktank incubator also emerged during the discussions with my friends Tarek Chehidi and Morne Mostert.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Developing advanced ICT Skills Courses as Open Educational Resources

The University of Mauritius through the Centre for Innovative and Lifelong Learning, has entered in a contribution agreement with the Commonwealth of Learning for the developing of 4 advanced ICT courses which will be released as OERs and which will be used in our existing programmes and also offered as stand-alone modules to improve the employability of youth and mainly women in the ICT sector. 

The four online modules to be developed are as follows:

1. Digital Marketing
2. Internet of Things
3. Computer Forensics and Security
4. Big Data Analytics and R Programming

The project takes on board the Centre for Information Technology and Systems (CITS), the Faculty of ICDT of the UoM and the CILL as the coordinating body. The total project value is about CAD 50000 with a contribution of the Commonwealth of Learning to the tune of approx. CAD 22000. 

This project further strengthens the ongoing partnership of the University of Mauritius and the Commonwealth of Learning. The contact person for the COL in this project is Dr Sanjaya Mishra.  

Two workshops on course writing will also be organised during the project where coursewriters, instructional designers, educational technologies and web developers will meet to discuss about the design and development process, to ensure the highest quality of learning materials are released as open educational resources. 

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Australia-Africa Universities Network Funding 2017

After the successful implementation of the first funded project from the AAUN on the rapid elearning methodology, we were a bit disappointed not to have secured another project when the announcements were made in February 2017. But we had hope when the AAUN announced, that it had earmarked another 'three excellent' projects for funding in case they received additional funds. Here it is, yesterday the email restored the happiness back in the team when we were announced that our application has finally been successful! We thank the AAUN for their continued support to the University of Mauritius initiatives. It is the second AAUN project where the University of Mauritius is in the leading role. 

A summary of our project proposal is provided below:

We intend to conduct three workshops over a 1 year period with 20 educators who are interested to act as change agents to engage into a grass-root level transformation of their respective school environment. Innovation in Education and capacity building of educators in ICTs and Leadership form important elements of the knowledge society. The research team will engage into a discussion of the best educational philosophy and pedagogical model to run the capacity-building workshops to ensure transfer and acquisition of actionable skills and competencies. Once the educators are identified, we will conduct a training needs analysis with them along the themes proposed to refine our curriculum and strategy. The aim is to develop a tailor-made but adaptable and efficient continuous professional development model that can be later replicated and scaled up and applied in other developing country contexts. The approach will be a blend of online interaction, face-to-face meetings, and distributed work environment so that contact with the participants is maintained throughout the project. From the research perspective, this will take the form of an action-research project where the researchers will be mainly acting as coach, guide and critical observers. Through the online environment the educators will interact with the project partners to have access to their expertise and to engage in rich social exchanges. They will be requested to keep an online journal to regularly document and share progress made and issues encountered at school level so that collective strategies can be elaborated and tested. We expect that these change agents will be equipped with leadership skills and futures thinking skills to better influence school-based policy making to improve the overall school environment, and by extension progress towards a sustainable KS development initiative.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

My first week as Pro Vice-Chancellor (Planning & Resources)

The satisfaction and momentary feeling of happiness over, I assumed duty on 24th April 2017 and on the very first day itself, I could feel the responsibility and stress linked to this position. Too late now, its now to be or not to be…Three years, that’s a short time frame to turnaround the difficulties faced by this grand but complex institution. Three years, that’s a very long time in the career of an academic to move into management. I can understand now why all my colleagues who are Deans of Faculties often would be relieved when the end of the Deanship is near….

But I have accepted a challenge, and that is the main thing. The first week was mainly devoted to getting to understand the big picture, and the details of the modus operandi of the office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Planning & Resources). Everybody has expectations on this office to turn-around the financial situation of this University. I have said it to one newspaper, that maybe, there are some exaggerations in the form of the expectation. First, because this University is a public organization and operates in a quite rigid governance framework. This is why my vision, that I presented to the selection panel was that of a future where the teaching and learning model of the University is redefined. 

So coming back to the first week, I have been able to establish some key priorities to deal with in the first instance. The first one is a revision of our marketing strategy and the way we advertise our programmes in the press, and through other networks. The Vice-Chancellor and the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academia) and many other colleagues are fully agreeable to this. One way to generate more funds at the University is through internationalization, and the capacity to attract international students and international faculty. We want to streamline the process of online application and payment for international students, so as to improve their experiences right at the start. In so doing we will also improve our admission system for local students. 


Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Higher Ed Trends that could shape UoM potential futures

Mauritius as a small island state can no longer ignore the trends that are influencing the global higher education sector and more importantly about how the landscape will look in 10 to 15 years ahead. At least three of the main strategic directions of the strategic plan 2015-2020 of the University depend on how these main trends will affect the global higher education landscape and impact on the achievement of key objectives laid out by the institution. The key strategic directions that are directly affected by these trends are internationalization, financial sustainability, and research excellence.  

Publicly funded Universities and Government Grant  

It is generally perceived that Government subsidies to African Higher Education Institutions are not sufficient to promote sustainable research and development activities (Kavuma 2011). In many African countries and beyond, Government are even cutting on subsidies. There are now growing concerns with respect to sustainability of these institutions and fears of decline in overall quality of educational provisions (Loh 2005; Kavuma 2011; Else 2016).  

Borderless Education and Transnational Education Provision & ICTs  

There are four types of transnational education provisions namely franchise, branch campus, joint offer of programmes and online delivery. Technology is now playing a significant role in the digitization era and has revolutionized transnational education provisions leaving however new challenges from the quality assurance and legal perspectives (Santally 2016).  

Merging of Universities  

A wave of university mergers has been experienced in Europe as these universities embark on increasing ranking, foster innovation and research to keep control on a bigger share of the higher education market. University mergers make competition tougher for smaller and less renowned institutions in the fight for sustainability and survival (Mitchell 2015).  

Global Higher Education Partnerships for Transnational Research

There is clear indication that research outputs from the north are among the most cited and impactful on academia and industry. Universities such as Makerere University, in the African region that partnered for research, development and publications with researchers in Europe experienced an improved university ranking and higher research impact scores (Daily Output 2015). Global research partnerships also improve the chances of attracting funding for high end and interdisciplinary research.

Public-Private Sector Partnerships through linking academia with industry   

Universities engaging in high-end R&D are those who have received huge funding to work on industry related problems, or those are able to commercialize their R&D activities with the private sector. A number of initiatives in the European region have been developed based on the 4P model of public, private, people & partnerships to promote open innovation such as Living Labs (Quesado 2016; Santally et al. 2014).  

Higher Education Demographics & Outbound Student Mobility shifting towards the East   

By 2020, it is projected that China, Malaysia and India will be among the top 10 host countries of internationally mobile students. By 2020, four countries (India, China, US and Indonesia) will account for over 50% of the 18-22 year old globally. The other quarter will come from Nigeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Philippines and Mexico (British Council 2012).