Soon after Aberystwyth University announced it was setting up a campus in Mauritius – the Indian Ocean island known for its pristine beaches and tropical climate – students and staff have been asking whether they can teach or study there when it opens in September this year.
“I don’t think I can think of anywhere students would rather go,” said Natalie Roberts, the university’s assistant registrar and one of the project team setting up the campus.
Cynics may view such a venture as akin to buying a holiday home in the sun, but Aberystwyth will be the third UK university to establish itself on the island, which is attempting to attract universities and students from across the world.
A multilingual, multi-ethnic and relatively wealthy democracy to the east of Madagascar, Mauritius is “stable” and “welcoming”, she explained. “The [Mauritian] government is so behind this [campus],” Dr Roberts said, although she added that it is not offering any financial incentives.
Mauritius’ current plan, as laid out in the country’s Tertiary Education Strategic Plan 2013-2025, is to have 100,000 international students enrolled by 2025, which would make up about one in 14 of the island’s population.
The island’s ambitions do appear to be slightly scaled back, however. In January 2012, Rajesh Jeetah, the minister of tertiary education, science, research and technology, gave a presentation that said Mauritius would hit the 100,000 target by 2020, not 2025.
In the presentation he revealed that the island had just over 1,000 overseas students (about a third from India, a quarter from Africa and another quarter from Indian Ocean islands), illustrating the scale of the task ahead.
For this year’s intake, Aberystwyth will occupy an existing building also used by an Indian university (which Dr Roberts declined to name) that is pulling out of Mauritius but needs to teach out its remaining students, she said.
For 2015-16, the Welsh institution hopes to have a new, dedicated campus built. It will be funded by a Mauritian firm, Boston Campus Limited, which will take a 50 per cent ownership stake alongside the university.
The fee income from students will be split equally between the partners. As part of the deal there are student recruitment targets, Dr Roberts explained, although “demand out there clearly is already high”.
However, the university is not yet able to market its courses – four undergraduate courses and one MSc, focusing on business, law and accountancy – until it receives approval from the tertiary education commission, which is expected in April.
Some teaching staff will be directly employed by Boston Campus, although as Aberystwyth is “currently working on the staffing model” it is not yet possible to say what proportion, she said.
The eventual plan is for the campus to teach 2,000 students, although Dr Roberts did not give a specific timescale. “Aberystwyth is in this for the long run,” she said. “We’re not going to make quick money.”
Middlesex University, which began teaching at its Mauritian campus at the beginning of 2010, has grown student numbers every year and now has 735 on its campus. The University of Wolverhampton, which set up in Mauritius in 2012, currently has 123 students.