Professor Sanjeev Sobhee

Vice-Chancellor | University of Mauritius

AfricaLive: How would you define the identity of the University of Mauritius and how have research and partnerships helped shape this identity?

Prof Sobhee: We are one of the universities that have been ranked among the top institutions investing in research. We are also research-engaged and entrepreneurial at our core. Our institution is now focused on our Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Our high ranking as a university is great not only for us but also for the country. This will pull in more international dollars and partners. Our identity has been built for years through the research programs we offer here and their impact on society. 

Our university has seven faculties, with a few being relatively new. Two of the newest ones are the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, which is providing lots of services to the government and the private sector. We also have the Faculty of Information, Communication, and Digital Technologies. These two faculties are adding value to our human capital and propelling us forward toward achieving the SDGs.

When we talk about the edge Mauritius has in terms of research, I can tell you that the country has lots of research opportunities to offer in terms of terrestrial and marine species. This is the uniqueness we offer. Mauritius is an island, so the blue economy is integral for us as a nation. Our blue economy research in coral reefs, ocean zone management, and climate change. 

We also have an edge in the Agro-economy through our school of Agriculture which was created in the early days of this institution. Sugar technology is very important to us and our focus in this area has seen us become sugar producers, exporting many tons of the commodity to the EU zone. We also have a strong focus on tropical medicine, medicinal plants, and pharmaceutical products.

Mauritius is a plural society with people from all backgrounds. That makes our country a testing ground for various social and political issues, in a bid to improve society. Our country is well governed and this has turned us into an economic success story. We grew from a mono-crop economy (sugar) to an intensive services-based economy.

These are the areas the university is focusing on as we seek to connect more with our country and express ourselves on the world stage. The development of the university has gone hand in hand with the development of the country. 

AfricaLive: What would you consider the key research programs and industry partnerships that we should highlight to our audience?

Prof Sobhee: I would point to the research we are currently doing in the field of nano vaccines and artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics in the health sector. AI and robotics in the health sector can help us deal with non-communicable diseases, hypertension, and dialysis. 

We also conduct research on the blue economy regarding our country being a popular tourist destination. Our research here entails maintaining and enhancing our natural resources by mapping our ocean zone and maintaining our coral reefs. 

We are also taking the time to study our successes in attracting visitors and investors and the challenges we’ve had in our financial services sector. Research here entails studying our progress from a mono-crop economy, to a services sector leader and how we can advance from here. 

AfricaLive: You have shown an interest in working with the private sector. In a country like Mauritius, how vital is it to form such partnerships and maintain them?

Prof Sobhee: This is essential. When we talk about innovation or innovative research, we must talk about how to scale up from the traditional research being carried out in terms of publishing research journals to nurturing brilliant ideas that can be commercialized and patented.  

We are working with the industry and have got a few projects lined up with the Mauritius Research and Innovation Council. This is a funding organisation that works in collaboration with the industry. It’s a tripartite partnership where the MRIC funds the research of a private company while using our staff to do so. 

We have also put in place an intellectual property transfer office, where we have a policy that informs our intellectual property agenda. This helps push researchers with interesting ideas toward the commercialization of those ideas. 

AfricaLive: How can a university ensure that the research being conducted in its labs leads to a real-world impact on the road to realising the SDGs?

Prof Sobhee: Research means nothing if it doesn’t change the life of the everyday person. 

We just concluded the 14th edition of our ‘Research Week’ where the focus was on SDGs. We find that working on SDGs brings advancements that improve the lives of everyday people. 

The success of research projects sometimes depends on how much the private sector will come on board and work with us. It is encouraging to note that industry-university partnerships are on the rise. We are seeing private companies fund tailor-made research, while others sponsor certain students that they intend to hire after graduation. 

Our work can also be impactful on a policy level. We sit down with government officials and provide research projects to them. When we see that our research reports have been taken on board by the government, we become confident that our research is helping to transform society. 

AfricaLive: What does internationalisation mean to you in university education?

Prof Sobhee: This begins with the institution being internationally recognised and accredited. We are ranked highly in the Times Higher Education University Ranking (THE), so our institution is doing a great job. 

Aside from the ranking, internationalisation to us means the ability to attract foreign students. It also means the ability of the university to attract donors, funders, and overseas partners.

AfricaLive: What do you consider the building blocks of a solid partnership between the global south and north, and how do we ensure those partnerships deliver win-win situations?

Prof Sobhee: The Times Higher Education University Ranking (THE) helps a lot here. When you make it to that ranking, it gives you the platform to attract quality partnerships. We are ranked 51st in the African context, which gives us an edge we must utilise to get into even better partnerships. 

Institutions that want to make an impact must identify areas that the country or region has an edge, and bring universities together to do a joint degree or doctorate programs in those areas.

This can lead to the formation of a very specific program that can help different African countries resolve pertinent issues. To put it simply, we should highlight areas that we want to internationalise and then have joint partnerships between universities to look into them. 

AfricaLive: As we go into 2023, what are the main objectives the university has that may interest our readers?

Prof Sobhee: We are putting more emphasis on internationalisation as we look to attract more international students into Mauritius. We are also working to ensure that our students acquire work permits for up to three years after graduation. This will help boost their employability and attractiveness in the corporate sphere. 

Our university is currently working with the government to make Mauritius a knowledge hub that can drive our innovative agenda. This move will help attract investment and we will develop our research from mere publications to patented work. 

As we go into 2023, we are looking to revisit our vision, which is important to do every five years. We must take into account where we are now and where we intend to go. 

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