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FEATURE

Cisco Networking Academy IT Education is Critical to Mauritius's New Economic Direction

June 15, 2009

By Mike Stone

It turns out that even paradise needs computer skills. Right now, Mauritius, an idyllic island nation in the Indian Ocean, is banking on technology expertise to give its economy a kick start—and the Cisco® Networking Academy® is playing an important role in its plans.  

The country intends to introduce Networking Academy training in order to satisfy the domestic demand for networking skills and provide qualified technical personnel for a burgeoning business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.

BPO has become one of the great engines of economic change in Mauritius since two of its economic mainstays, the sugar cane and textiles industries, have come under threat.

Sugar cane production has been affected in recent years by a fall in global prices for sugar and the removal of import protection; and the textiles industry faces increasingly fierce overseas competition.

BPO offers an economic lifeline because it plays to two of the island's important strengths. One is that Mauritians are native English and French speakers, and so can easily staff call centers and help-lines for clients in Europe.

"Once the 15 networking academies are established, I see a major growth in the number of networking graduates."

— Alfie Hamid, Cisco Networking Academy area manager

The second is that state education in Mauritius is of a high standard and free to all at any level. The result is a highly literate and well-educated population, an ideal basis for developing an IT-orientated economy.

Taking these factors into account, the Mauritian government has set about positioning the island as an attractive location for IT companies by setting up an appropriate legal framework, liberalizing telecommunications and improving the infrastructure, amongst other measures.

Consequently, the country's IT industry has increased by an average 25 percent year-on-year in the last five years, with more than 350 companies operating in BPO, IT-enabled services, software development, multimedia, call centers, hardware, consultancy, training and Web development.

Companies that have opened operations in Mauritius include Accenture, Cisco, France Telecom, Hinduja Group, HP, IBM, Infosys, Microsoft and Oracle.

This influx of foreign businesses has led to an exponentially growing demand for IT skills and increasingly higher salaries, which has resulted in local IT academics leaving their university posts for better-paid jobs in the private sector.

The collaboration with Cisco should ease this shortage of skills by helping to create a range of new IT training facilities.

It is the result of a government conference called "Export of Human Resource Development Services", held in the capital of Port Louis, and has the blessing of the Mauritius Ministry of Finance, Board of Investment and Joint Economic Council.

Other participants at the conference included the United Nations Development Programme, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as well as Cisco and Orange Business Services.

The decision to link up with Cisco was swift and decisive, says Alfie Hamid, Networking Academy area academy manager: "Unlike other governments that simply talk about investment in IT skills, here in Mauritius actions speak louder than words."

As well as being a speaker at the conference, Hamid was instrumental in developing the agreement, along with Alen Venkatasami, a Cisco national account manager in Mauritius.

The collaboration with Cisco entails the opening of 15 new Networking Academies offering Cisco IT Essentials courses, based in state secondary schools, while the University of Mauritius concentrates on training potential IT professionals to CCNP® level as a regional academy.

In addition, the newly established Mauritius University of Technology will teach to CCNA® level. Skills training will be free and open to all. Additionally, scholarships will be available for each student enrolled on CCNP courses at the University of Mauritius.

Investment to support the program will come from a variety of public and private sources, with the Ministry of Finance backing the University of Mauritius academy to the tune of USD$75,000.

The creation of new Academies is not the only government investment in IT training; the administration has also created a mobile "cyber caravan", a coach filled with PCs that is used to introduce people in remote locations to computers, echoing a similar initiative in Egypt.

And further public sector investment in IT has resulted from the government's creation of the island's first cyber-city, near to the University of Mauritius.

The city, located scant kilometers from Port Louis, will have satellite links and a connection to a fiber-optic backbone linking Portugal, South Africa and Malaysia.

It is designed to provide services including computing on demand, data centers and server farms for Web hosting, e-commerce and financial transactions. The city has already been tipped as an ideal location for disaster recovery services, given Mauritius's remote location.

All this spells a rosy future for a nation which, according to Mark Twain, served as the template for heaven. Hamid says: "Once the 15 Networking Academies are established, I see a major growth in the number of networking graduates.

"This will increase the advanced IT skills base in the country and help contribute to an increase in economic growth and foreign direct investment in the country."

Mike Stone is a freelance journalist located in Barcelona, Spain.

 
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