Academic Freedom in a State-Sponsored African University: The Case of the University of Mauritius

By Ramola Ramtohul, PhD

This paper discusses the issue of academic freedom in the context of Mauritius, with a focus on its first university, the University of Mauritius. The University of Mauritius was set up in the late 1960s, at a time when poverty was rampant in the country and access to education was reserved for the privileged. A government policy of widening access to education has led to a subsidization of education on a national scale and, consequently, to the university being state-funded. Therefore, students pursuing full-time undergraduate degrees do not have to pay tuition. The University of Mauritius has grown in terms of student population, diversity of courses and faculties, quality of education, and international recognition. Mauritius is one of Africa’s premier democracies and is known for respecting human rights, political freedom, and freedom of the press. These values also inform the University of Mauritius, where the belief is that academic staff enjoy academic freedom. The existence of academic freedom at the University of Mauritius is often reiterated as a fact by ruling politicians. Yet, despite this discourse, I argue that state sponsorship has an impact on the level of autonomy of the institution and ultimately on academic freedom. Academics at the University of Mauritius benefit from a controlled or closely monitored form of academic freedom. Using qualitative interviews of senior academics as well as documentary sources, this paper analyzes the nature of academic freedom at the University of Mauritius. The paper argues that due to a lack of institutional autonomy, academic freedom operates under a subtle veil of threat in state-funded academic institutions in an African democratic context.

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