AfricaLive: The development of the University of Mauritius has gone hand in hand with the development of Mauritius as a country. How would you define the role the University plays in Mauritian society and the national economy?
Prof Jhurry: The University of Mauritius is the oldest University in Mauritius. It was created in 1965, before independence. The reason for creating the University was that we knew we were heading for independence and we had to create the University to demonstrate that Mauritius had the capacity and the drive to take its destiny and build the human capital needed to take the newly independent nation towards the path of economic success.
The purpose of the University was to develop the necessary training to help people drive the economy of the country. We have been constantly developing the University in relation to the advancement of the country. If you look at the establishment of each of our faculties and the evolution of each area of the University it matches exactly with the development of the country at that particular point in history.
When the country developed a need for skills in the financial services industry we developed our faculty to respond to that. As a recent example, in 2017, we established the Faculty of Communication, Information and Digital Technologies. Why? Because it was clear the country needed people with high-end IT skills, software engineers, and people able to work with digital technologies. It was important for us to respond to the needs of the country.
All throughout our history we have been working in close collaboration with industry.
When I joined the University I recognised that the University had done well in working with the country to develop human capital. However, I felt we had been lacking in accompanying the country in the development of an innovation economy. In 2017 I thought we should take the bold step of reimagining the vision of the University. We came up with the vision of developing a research-engaged and entrepreneurial University.
Ever since its creation, the University of Mauritius has played a crucial role in the socio-economic progress of the country. Today, it continues to play a strategic role in assisting Government in its endeavour to position Mauritius as a knowledge hub and become a high-income economy.
AfricaLive: What does the successful development of that vision look like?
Prof Jhurry: Thinking about how to develop research in a relatively young University is in itself a huge task. It is quite different from working in the northern hemisphere where research is well established. It is different from working with a University which is hundreds of years old.
We need to increase the funds which are available for research, both internally and externally.
We need to create the necessary ecosystem for research to succeed.
We are looking at research in health, agriculture & marine, renewable energies, IT & digital technologies, and research in the social-economic fields.
It is now a case of building the research capacity, providing more support to the researchers, and helping them to grow international networks. This is what I mean by our goal to be a research-engaged university.
My ultimate goal is to develop innovation which will impact the economy. We must build on research by also developing an entrepreneurial culture.
Innovation is at the centre of our goals. The University should not be considered the centre of our work, innovation is at the centre and the University is a partner in developing innovation. This is an important mindset shift.
AfricaLive: How will you be working with industry to develop this entrepreneurial culture?
Prof Jhurry: We are working with a significant number of companies to build our business capital and jointly develop research.
For example, we have just signed an MOU with Harel Mallac Technologies (HMT), one of the major IT companies in Mauritius. HMT will be partnering with us in the development of an Agritech Park.
HMT wants to invest in digital agriculture, and they are partnering with us to do so. We have 21 acres of land next to the campus which will be developed into an Agritech Park with the backing of the state.
The AgriTech Park will focus on developing smart agriculture, biotech, and food security. We want to work closely with the private sector, encourage them to come and invest in the Park and grow research, innovation and entrepreneurial startups in those areas. The sky is the limit! Just imagine what we can do in terms of digital agriculture.
A number of international universities including the University of Pretoria and the University of Adelaide have expressed an interest in collaborating in the project. We are already working with a number of local private sector partners and we are opening this up to international partners to come in now.
Increasingly Mauritius has less land available for agriculture. We need to produce more with less.
Another component of the AgriTech Park will be an agro-processing incubator, this shows how we are indeed working for the development of the country. We are looking to encourage entrepreneurial activity in the sector. Our idea is to bridge a gap. If we are able to take our students from lab to proof of concept through the AgriTech Park, we will have won. If we can interest people to come to the University to develop ideas with backup and support from the University, we will have won.
As you can see the mindset is all about opening up the University and not being in that ivory tower. It is about opening the university to industry and opening the university to the community.
AfricaLive: What role can the University of Mauritius play on the African continent?
Prof Jhurry: I don’t think we can just apply a model anywhere else. The model that I am developing here I hope is original. I am not just copying what others have done, I have studied the ecosystem that we have and have thought on how to develop an ecosystem that can respond better.
What we can offer Africa is the expertise that we have developed in a number of areas. For example, how to develop the University in such a way that it responds to national development. This is something that we will be very happy to assist African universities and countries with.
We can offer a lot to students from the continent through our dual degree programmes with Universities in the US and Europe. Students can get a degree from the University of Arizona or the University of Paris Seine here in Mauritius at a much lower cost than going to study in the US or France.
Living in Mauritius is an experience to learn from. We are a multicultural society where everyone lives peacefully. We have built a public sector which responds to the needs of the country and drives free education and healthcare. Learning about how to build public infrastructure and implement good public healthcare system.
The University of Mauritius recently hosted the prestigious ACU Summer School on the topic of Public Health: From a Small Island State to the Global Community. This one week programme was held from 15 to 21 July 2019 and was attended by 36 graduate students from 26 universities across the world, and a good majority being from the African Continent.
Mauritius is a safe, peaceful, well developed, multicultural environment with a lot to offer in education, research opportunities, and experiences. The University is championing internationalisation and international education diplomacy just as Mauritius has championed diplomacy since its independence.