Building a research culture on the Paradise Island

Investment in research is important, but a research culture needs attention and celebration to truly thrive

Opening ceremony Mahatma Gandhi Institute
In the opening ceremony, members of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute performed practice-based research: “Melodious Coexistence: A Creative Exploration.” (Concept by N. Gayan, Director General, MGI and coordinated by Dr. A. Sankara Peruman, Head of the Department of Creativity and Performance.)

Investment in research is key to building a knowledge base for a country and stimulating its economy. As UNESCO statistics show, national targets for research and development investment can vitalize both the public and private sectors, and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals include pledges from countries worldwide to increase research investment and the number of researchers. That investment is crucial for addressing global challenges, from inequality to climate change to energy.

But it’s not always enough to direct money to research; as research leaders, we need to find ways to celebrate the work being done by research institutions and connect with the public so they understand and engage with the work being done. In that way, we can build cultures that are enthusiastic and supportive of research, and secure the future of research for generations to come.

We cannot contemplate transforming Mauritius into a high-income country and developing it as a knowledge hub for the region without investment in research. Recognizing this reality has raised awareness of the need to develop a resilient research culture within academia and consequently led to the government injecting MUR 50 million into a research fund in 2017. The aim was to provide funding to research projects undertaken in public higher education institutions.

This research fund, managed by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), has led to the introduction of 18 research schemes designed to boost research and meet the research funding needs of the HE sector in various fields. Currently, about 80 research projects for an overall value of MUR 87 million have been approved for funding.

Following that strong commitment from the Mauritian government to strengthen research undertakings in Mauritius, the research agenda has taken a new direction. While there is an utmost need, for economic reasons, to increase research activities in the academic institutions, disseminating the research works among peers and with the community at large is a requisite. As a result, the first National Research Week (NRW) was held in May 2018. The aim was to celebrate research carried out by the academic community and give staff, students and the community an opportunity to see the exciting research and talent of this nation within the academic settings.

The second NRW, held April 2-5 at the Intercontinental Mauritius Resort Balaclava Fort, took local researchers from academia and beyond on a “futuristic journey to the unknown,” with a glimpse – for the first time – into research in the performing arts.

This inclusion of practice-based creative research was the result of a collaborative project involving artists and academics to fill a gap in the ill-defined nexus between creativity and research. The performance stemmed from an initiative to place creative activity in a context in which the documenting of the process – from discussion, to concept, to exploration, testing, design and production – is carried out within a systematic, methodical and rigorous framework. To satisfy the requirement of a practice-based research project, a research note was created alongside the recital articulating the creative process and its purpose.

Prof. Christine Ennew, Provost at the University of Warwick in the UK, gives a keynote speech on “Turning your research idea into a proposal for funding.”

These events give participants a chance to learn, explore and engage with peers and local and international resource persons. As an outreach platform, NRW allows researchers to benefit from free activities, including keynote speeches, workshops, panel discussions, masterclasses, debate, and interactive oral and poster presentations. (Videos are available on the event website.)

Research Assistant Jannish Asav Purmaissur gives a poster presentation titled “Augmented-Reality Computer-Vision Assisted Disaggregated Energy Monitoring and IoT Control Platform.”

A researcher gives a presentation on CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology. The events also highlight research through oral and poster presentations covering an array of fields and topics. These sessions, and the awards that follow, enhance researchers’ visibility and inspire other young researchers to work towards outstanding research achievements; they represent an important component of building a research culture. Awards for the best oral and poster presentations were given in Education; Arts and Humanities; Business, Law and Management; and Science, Technology and Engineering. A special award for the ‘Most Innovative Poster Presentation’ was also presented.

Mauritius has embarked on an interesting journey into the world of research, and by celebrating the work of our researchers, we hope to give some conviction to our burgeoning research culture.

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