VUSSC/Mauritius BC/VC address

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Address by Professor I Fagoonee

Vice-Chancellor, Prof I. Fagoonee's address

For the VUSSC workshop opening at 9.00 in LT1- UoM

  • Hon D Gokhool, Minister of Education & Human Resources
  • Hon Madan Dulloo, Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Trade & Cooperation
  • Hon Dr R Jeetah, Minister of Industry, Small and Medium Enterprises, Commerce & Cooperatives
  • Dr P West, Knowledge Manager & Education Specialist, Commonwealth of Learning
  • Prof Jugessur, Pro-Chancellor & Chairman of UoM Council
  • Miss H C I How Fok Cheung, Ag. Senior Chief Executive
  • Diplomatic Corps
  • University Colleagues
  • Distinguished guests
  • Ladies and Gentlemen

On behalf of the University of Mauritius and my own, let me first extend to you all a very warm welcome to this working party of a new kind that allows us bring together in Mauritius representatives of Commonwealth countries to work collaboratively on educational material, the use and benefit of which will then be shared.

We are very pleased and honoured that the UoM has been chosen to host this workshop; we see this as a recognition of our sustained efforts as well as an important milestone in the process of making Mauritius a knowledge hub. What better example of knowledge hubbing could we find ? All the ingredients of successful hubbing and clustering are there: process, openness and international scope, but above all, value-addition and capacity-building.

In fact, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) offers us both an opportunity and a challenge. By using ICT, universities provide increased flexibility to students while reaching them beyond the usual catchment area. However, institutions need to develop and apply appropriate policies, and to plan and manage effectively for new modes of teaching and learning.

The state of higher education systems worldwide has often been described as being in crisis. A number of change factors impinge on systems: 1) globalization, with digitalized knowledge and permeable educational boundaries; 2) connectivity through the Internet, which results in a globalization of information and increased access; 3) an increasing digital divide, due to differing access capacity; 4) the commodification of knowledge, and a more consumer-oriented at-titude in the university; 5) government funding is on the decline, leading to a more competitive stance and the need for lifelong learning, which demands new approaches to T & L. Notwithstanding these, in addressing an increasing and an increasingly varied demand, universities have new opportunities, many of them linked to Information and Communication Technologies. First, there is growth in virtual university activities, many of which allow traditional universities to expand their reach and increase the flexibility of the educational offer. Blended learning, which combines classroom and online studies, offers new learning methods, while open source software and courseware facilitate sharing of resources and reduce costly duplication of effort. These changes promote a learner-centred pedagogy.

There is evidence of an emerging global marketplace and a growing spirit of competition in higher education as traditional universities expand their reach through the Internet, and new actors, such as corporate universities and other private providers, enter the field. The idea of a virtual university for small states of the Commonwealth germinated for the first time at an Education Ministers’ meeting in Halifax (Canada) in 2000. It has taken not less than five years to reach the point where we are today, where action can finally be taken to begin the collaborative creation of open educational resources (OERs) for the benefit of all partners. During the last decade, the strategy of the UoM has always been to act as the spearhead for state-of-the-art educational trends in the country, combining local objectives of the government with international/ global initiatives.

WE set up our VCILT in late 2000 to precisely address ILT, thru’ the virtual mode. Very quickly we made a name for ourselves – nationally and internationally, and this in a large part owing to the vision, dedication and drive of Prof Alain Senteni (Director of our VCILT) and his staff. People did not believe us at the start…Let me recall some of the milestones to date that are noteworthy: we are already involved in the development of Open Educational Resources (now known as OER) since a first meeting organised (in 2001) by the UNESCO with the support of the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation. Following this Paris meeting, the UoM-VCILT has been solicited to collaborate with and maintain a mirror site of the MIT Open Courseware and has contributed to disseminate Open Educational Resources philosophy, its concepts and contents in the region. With the support of the Hewlett Foundation, the UoM-VCILT organised an international conference on Open & Online Learning (ICOOL) for the first time in the region. That was in December 2003; ICOOL attracted representatives of some twenty countries in Mauritius. The success was such that we were invited to hold the second vintage of ICOOL within the IFIP World Conference on Computer in Education (WCCE 2005) at the University of Stellenbosch (Republic of South Africa) in July last year. Today, I can already invite you to join us in June 2007 at University Sains Malaysia (USM) in Penang, for 3rd edition ICOOL 2007, where Sir John Daniel has promised to deliver the opening address.

It is not that we did not have any challenges; we had to start from scratch; we had no funds to purchase expensive software for e-learning. So we developed our own e-learning platform called ‘i-learn’. Capacity building was another daunting task; it takes time and is an energy consuming process, that needs stability and long term vision. We have been thru these. The VCILT had to come up with very innovative approaches to capacity building: on the job skilling, attracting expats on short term attachments, mounting at least four Masters Level programmes of studies, namely: MSc Computer Mediated Communications Pedagogy, MSc Interactive Learning En-vironments, MSc Media Arts, and MSc Teaching and Learning.

Today, We view such initiatives as the VUSSC as an instrument to help the small states - or even institutions within one state - work together to produce, adapt and use courses and learning materials that would be difficult for one state to produce alone.

We also need mechanisms to pool, mutualise and federate all those ready to collaborate and share.

VUSSC objectives were set so as to expand access to learning, to help partner countries to become leaders in education reform and cutting edge in ICTs, as well as full fledged players in global development.

The model chosen for VUSSC is a network rather than an institution, a network with multiple nodes of activity that will contribute to strengthen existing post-secondary institutions. Is not this model quite similar, at a broader international scale, to the clustering policy developed at UoM over the last few years.

VUSSC is based on exactly the same principles that made the success of the UoM Lifelong Learning Cluster (LLC). When in October 2003, three IT and DE- related Centres of the UoM were clustered into a Lifelong Learning Cluster (LLC), we had already envisioned that in a relatively short time scale, we would be called upon to participate in today’s international endeavour; in fact we were planning to organize one such event. The LLC has proved to be an internal flexible organisation providing the University with the capacity to act as a holistic entity, to do research and to deliver graduate programmes as Faculties do, without questioning their autonomy nor adding further layers of bureaucracy. An International Institutional Quality Audit held in May 2005 at the UoM, commended repeatedly on the originality and efficiency of the model, as well as on the high quality of the work of the LLC. Sir John Daniels commended on several occasions the achievements of this Cluster, that could be used a model for an Open University start up. Our participation in VUSSC is also very consistent with our latest Cluster for Open, Online & Lifelong Learning (COOL-L) project, endorsed by the Council of the University of Mauritius in January 2006, as the contribution towards the gradual setting up of an Open University in Mauritius. The COOL-L objective is to implement a Cluster for Open, Online & Lifelong Learning in Mauritius, in partnership with other HE institutions (such as UTM, MCA) who have expressed their the pro-active support. The Cluster provides a context in which institutions can share HR and facilities for Open and Online Lifelong Learning development. Its mandate would be to act as a capacity building and developmental intervention body across partner institutions, to allow Partner Institutions to act as a consortium for responding to demands at the regional level, when one single institution does not have the capacity to do it alone, and finally, to pave the way for a full-fledged Open University in the medium to long term. I would also like to mention briefly here that at the last UN Summit meeting of SIDS in Mauritius, the University of Mauritius signed an MoU for setting up a Consortium of Universities of SIDS with the Universities of Malta, the Virgin Islands, of West Indies and University of South Pacific. It’s known as the UCSIS. It is having the full support of UNESCO and UNDP. MSc Sustainable development. ..we are leading

We hope that the VUSSC initiative is a first tangible step towards collaboration and clustering. The virtual university represents an important emanation of the development of borderless education. I wish you all a very fruitful workshop.