According to a report published by the Mauritius Research and Innovation Council in July, the country counted 553 researchers (in full-time equivalents) per million inhabitants in 2019. This figure would make Mauritius the country in Southern Africa with the greatest researcher density, according to the UNESCO Science Report (2021).1
Entitled Status of R&D in Mauritius: Use of R&D Measurements as a Policy Tool, the Mauritian report compiles the latest data on the country’s national innovation system. These data contribute to the Mauritius Innovation Scoreboard, which consists of indicators relating to human resources, finance and support, rate of innovation and bibliometrics.
The Scoreboard was launched as part of the National Innovation Framework 2018–2030, which centres on three pillars: building human capacities in the national innovation system; upgrading infrastructure like innovation centres; and the provision of incentives, such as funding schemes and tax incentives, to promote public- and private-sector research and innovation.
According to Status of R&D in Mauritius, domestic expenditure on research and development (R&D) amounted to 0.37% of GDP in 2019, a rate almost level with that cited in the UNESCO Science Report for 2018 (0.35% of GDP; see Figure 20.4 in UNESCO, 2021).
The average level of research intensity for upper middle-income countries like Mauritius is 1.57% of GDP, according to UNESCO (2021; Table 1.2).
Innovation vouchers and student placements could stimulate business innovation
The Mauritius Research and Innovation Council was established in May 2019 by act of parliament, along with the National Research and Innovation Fund. The Council is the national focal point for submitting data on research and development (R&D) to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
In the Status of R&D in Mauritius, the Council suggests that chronic low research spending by the business sector may be a consequence of the high proportion of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). SMEs accounted for about one-third of GDP and half of employment in 2018.
The report notes that these enterprises ‘operate on low turnovers’ and, thus, may lack funds or expertise to invest in collaborative research and innovation grant schemes, which operate on a matching grant basis.
It suggests that measures such as innovation vouchers and student placements in enterprises could help to make SMEs more innovative.
Status of R&D in Mauritius describes how tax incentives were introduced in 2017 to encourage companies to invest in R&D. In parallel, the Industrial Property Bill of 2019 has strengthened legal protections for intellectual property.
In 2017, the government introduced an SME Innovation Award and a National SME Incubator Scheme for start-ups, according to the UNESCO Science Report. To address the mismatch between skills and market needs, it introduced a Graduate Training for Employment Scheme in 2015, which provides unemployed graduates with practical training, a monthly stipend and a work placement. By February 2020, 86 employers had participated in the programme and 469 youth had been trained.
A strategy for artificial intelligence
Mauritius plans to become a regional transshipment hub and financial gateway into Africa, according to UNESCO (2021). Thanks to growing logistics and distribution networks, Mauritius already hosts a number of multinational companies seeking to expand their presence in Africa. According to the report, ‘it is the only country in the Southern African Development Community besides South Africa to have developed a high-tech industry in electrical equipment. High-tech industries do exist in other SADC countries but largely in the chemicals sector’.
One area which has been developing rapidly is artificial intelligence. Mauritius released its Artificial Intelligence Strategy in November 2018. The strategy identifies uses for artificial intelligence (AI) in health care, to support the diagnosis of disease and care for the elderly; in fintech, to support mobile apps, e-banking and other digital platforms; and in agriculture, as a tool for crop and pest management, as well as precision farming (UNESCO, 2021, p. 558).
The government has since set up the Mauritius Artificial Intelligence Council, which has been mandated to establish an AI roadmap, facilitate project implementation and monitor the socio-economic impact of AI (UNESCO, 2021, p. 558.).
Over the 2016–2019 period (UNESCO, 2021, Figure 20.6), Mauritian scientists had the second-highest number of publications per million inhabitants of any sub-Saharan country in the field of artificial intelligence and robotics (26), behind Cameroon (50) and ahead of South Africa (10). In biotechnology, they even had the subcontinent’s greatest research intensity.
To prepare the next generation for the digital economy, the government is introducing 15 hours of coding for fourth-year primary school pupils, through the Digital Youth Engagement Programme. Two mobile caravans toured Mauritius in 2018 to teach coding to about 2 000 pupils from 20 primary schools (UNESCO, 2021, p. 559).
Development under way of an info-highway
Mauritius’ Data Protection Act came into force in January 2017. Designed to improve individuals’ control over their personal data, it is in line with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. For instance, data can only be collected and processed whenever there is a defined purpose and individuals have a right to access their data, rectify or restrict its processing and to object to its collection (UNESCO, 2021, p. 558).
In 2018, the government introduced the Info-Highway project, which makes secure data-sharing possible among government agencies and provides robust e-services. Mauritius’ Digital Government Transformation Strategy 2018–2022 (2018) sets out the government’s approach to e-governance and cybersecurity (Rep. Mauritius, 2019). It outlines a ‘once-only principle’, according to which data from citizens are to be collected only once, rather than through multiple state agencies. Digital paper services are to be delivered through an end-to-end, paperless, one-stop process.
Stronger links needed across sectors
The Mauritius Research and Innovation Council collects data on the share of investment devoted to broad fields of science by sector. The government contributes eight-tenths (79%) of research investment. In 2019, it directed 57% of this investment towards agricultural and veterinary sciences.
Collaborative publications between the higher education and business sectors, on the one hand, and the higher education and government sectors, on the other, both represented less than 1% of total scientific output in 2019. The Mauritius Research and Innovation Council recommends building synergies between Mauritian universities and government ministries.
A call for ocean-related research
Status of R&D in Mauritius calls for measures to promote ocean-related research. According to the Council’s own bibliometric analysis, 6.6% of scientific publications from Mauritius over 2018–2020 concerned the ocean.
UNESCO (2021) describes measures in Mauritius to promote ocean sustainability. These include the establishment of the Oceanic Carbonate Chemistry Observatory in 2017 to monitor marine pollution, ocean acidification and marine debris, as well as Mauritius’ participation in the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network alongside over 90 countries.
Mauritian scientists produced four publications on sustainable fisheries between 2011 and 2019, according to an original study by UNESCO (2021), three publications on coastal eutrophication, two on the sustainable management of marine tourism and one on floating plastic debris in the ocean. There was no recorded scientific output in international journals on the topic of ocean acidification over this period.
Mauritius and South Africa planning to find ‘real-world solutions’ together
In January 2020, the Mauritius Research and Innovation Council signed a collaboration agreement with the Technology Innovation Agency of South Africa. The partners then released a call for research proposals focusing on ‘real-world solutions’ in the following broad areas: the green and blue economies; smart agriculture and life sciences; manufacturing; social innovation; and emerging sectors (UNESCO, 2021).
MRIC (2021) Status of R&D in Mauritius: Use of R&D Measurements as a Policy Tool. Mauritius Research and Innovation Council.
UNESCO (2021) UNESCO Science Report: the Race Against Time for Smarter Development. S. Schneegans, T. Straza and J. Lewis (eds). UNESCO Publishing: Paris.
UNESCO Science Report website
Mauritius Research and Innovation Council website
1 The UNESCO Institute for Statistics has recorded a figure of 474 researchers (in full-time equivalents) per million inhabitants in Mauritius in 2018. Recent data are unavailable for more than of half of countries in Southern Africa but South Africa counted 518 researchers (FTE) per million inhabitants in 2017, the highest proportion in the subregion that year [see Figure 20.5 in the UNESCO Science Report (2021)].