Budget 2008-2009: Points of Interest

by
Inf

As you probably know, the 2008-2009 budget was presented today by Dr. Rama Sithanen. So for this post, I’ll be dissecting the budget to see what truly concerns students and people involved in IT in general. There are not many sections about these. According to me, if I had to resume the whole budget in one key phrase, it would be “The Poor’s Budget”. If you read the budget speech, available here, you will notice how many times the words “poor”, “needy” or “poverty” are mentioned! It’s just astounding!

So, Mr. Speaker Sir, I will now move on to dissecting the speech, and putting up the relevant sections, which according to me, are most relevant to the title. Of course, if you found anything worthy of being added or something that interests you in the speech, you can still post it via comments and I’ll add it here. Here goes:

80. Therefore, Mr Speaker, Sir, we are starting today a comprehensive and effective action plan to increase enrolment ratio at tertiary level. We will begin by enabling all students who are qualified and willing to pursue further studies to secure access to tertiary education. These short term actions will be accompanied by a medium term strategy to significantly increase the share of each cohort of primary students going to HSC and to tertiary education so as to double the enrollment ratio by 2015. And we will give all the support required to students who want to pursue tertiary studies but cannot afford it.

This is a particularly good measure to encourage people to move on to Tertiary education, and will be helped in terms of funding and similar. The problem is, I doubt the current institutions will be able to double their intake. I cannot see University of Mauritius doubling its capacity in a mere 7 years, unless the campus is drastically increased in size. This will imply heavy investment there, to enhance the existing infrastructure, and provide some new facilities. A good example would be to put a bus-station near UoM to remove the massive traffic chaos there is every morning in front of the Octave Wiehe Auditorium and to cater for the increase in student population. The tiny bus-stop existing now cannot cater for students in times of heavy rain. Also, if they could improve the standards, and provide up-to-date equipment, it would be paradise!

84. To meet the higher demand that this measure should generate, the University of Mauritius and University of Technology Mauritius will increase their intake in the next academic year so that all students who qualify for university studies can be admitted.

Aww! Bad move! BAD move! I really think that UoM is already too packed. Or maybe not, but as I said above, the existing infrastructure can hardly cope with the increased number of students. An example? I still remember white-boards being used with a class of 100+ students. You can’t see anything on that board, specially when you are at the back of the class. If they want to increase the number of students, they got to provide more facilities. Or heck, provide a second campus! UoM2! ๐Ÿ˜› In peak time, the smallish cafeteria is too full. Common room usually doesn’t have enough space (and furniture) for students. Now, if you increase it even further? I think we’ll have flexi-time courses at Uni!

86. In addition, to promote flexible learning and accommodate those who are unable to follow a normal curriculum during the day, our two Universities are developing proposals for expanding intake in evening courses. The University of Technology Mauritius will introduce the concept of flexi-learning, where there is no time limit for completing a course. This will give students more flexibility in the allocation of their time between studies and work or other priorities.

That’s a good idea! If only it was implemented for all courses! And if only UoM could remove that “compulsory attendance” thing, and let you choose your own learning scheme. What if I want to stay at home, download notes and study by myself, and choose only to attend the lectures I really want? That would be great. Ok, maybe not totally remove “compulsory attendance”, but maybe bring it down from ~80% to ~40%? Please? I still don’t understand why e-courses are still not being offered? A virtual class-room would not be bad, but I can imagine it lagging under our current Internet speeds. Maybe for later.

87. Our tertiary education institutions and the private sector will work together to offer sandwich courses. These courses combine theory and practice, class room lectures and work experience. They will give our students the best start possible into the world of work and create that crucial bridge between university and industry.This programme will also make tertiary education more affordable.

Nice to see theory and practice being combined more, though saying it and doing it are two different things. I think UoM already has something name “Work-based learning”. Don’t have much info about it yet, but it is good to have some field experience.

89. The Ministry of Education, in collaboration with other Government Departments, the IVTB, the Empowerment Programme and NGOs, will develop a Second Chance Programme by January 2009 for all young people under 21 who are not in full time education or full time employment. This programme aims to provide basic numeracy and language skills to those who have dropped out of school and orient these young people to a vocational programme. The programme will include a strong emphasis on life training skills and provide psychological and social back up.The Human Resource Development, Knowledge and Arts Fund will provide the necessary financing.

Again a good move to help students who do not have necessary qualifications to join tertiary education institution. At least it will help reduce employment and increase overall education level.

94. To this end, the Ministry of Education will formulate a strategy to implement the development of distance education in Mauritius.

Oh? I was just thinking about it in point #86, and here it is! Let’s see what can come out of this.

95. The cost of laptops and internet access for these students will be covered by the Government loan guarantee scheme. In addition, needy students will be provided a scholarship to buy a laptop and pay for the costs of internet access for the duration of their distance learning studies.

Awww! Only for needy students! Come’on most students in Mauritius can’t afford a laptop yet. The price of a decent machine is still quite high. Oh well, at least SOME students are going to be benefiting from this. They could consider importing those mini-laptops that cost around $500. Not much on performance, but ideal for school in my opinion.

124. We must also improve connectivity on the digital highway. Currently only about 70 percent of the island has access to high speed internet at 128 kbs compared to at least 512 kbs in Europe and even higher speeds in Asia. Our aim is to provide almost everyone with 512 kbs within the next few years. To achieve this, we are working with our partners in the Indian Ocean Commission and COMESA to develop an inter-island high speed cable connection that would link up to other cable projects between Africa and Asia. In addition Mauritius Telecom will purchase additional capacity on SAFE and develop the local backbone at a cost of around Rs 2 billion over the next few years.

Before I comment, I wish to point out that a new unit of data transmission speed has been developed for the budget! It’s the *drum roll* kbs! Mind you, it’s not just a typing mistake! They really put kbs in the speech! I head of Kbps or even Kb/s, but kbs is totally new to me!

I love the play on words. 70% of the island has access to 128 kbs (lol) does not mean that 70% already got it. It mean they can have it, but it may not mean they actually have that connection! Also, note the “next few years”. If 70% of Mauritius will get 512 kbs (lol!!) in the next few years, I wonder what Japan will be getting. 512Mbps? Really, it’s just too long! The Government should start motioning for higher speed connections be offered to users! And at an affordable price!

The part about additional capacity on SAFE and about increasing the capacity of the local backbone is specially interesting. I wonder if it will actually happen though. For now, I can only see price cuts on the horizon, and no 8Mbps in sight yet. *sigh* I have mixed feelings about that inter-island cable network. I don’t really know if it will help enhance Internet performance in Mauritius, unless we get access to their share of the SAFE cable too.

146. … we are making today the decision to adopt Summer Time in Mauritius and move the clock forward one hour from 1st November 2008 to 31st March 2009.

Till now, the people I talked to have mixed reactions to this. Some of them say it’s quite a good move. Others say it will cause people to work around 2 hours more per day, increasing stress and tiredness levels. Apparently, this measure was implemented in the eighties, but it failed and was removed. Now the Government is coming with it again as a pilot project, which will start November 2008. Let’s see what it brings.

147. Government will come up with an energy efficiency bill to set standards on the use of energy and on the tools and equipments through which energy is consumed.

Not much to say here. I’m pro efficient energy use. So for me, it’s great! The selling of economic light bulbs at cheap prices is welcomed.

156. Iam also reducing by half the taxes on hybrid vehicles. Excise duties, road tax and registration fees will all be halved for such vehicles starting on 1st July 2008. I am also eliminating customs duty on all tyres with energy saving and emission reducing certification.

Again, same comment as above. It’s a good move when it comes to saving fuel and energy. I do not understand the last part though. Are there tyres with “energy saving” and “emission reducing certification”? Do tyres emit something? Dunno.

157. We are launching a Bus Modernization Programme which will enable all bus operators to renew their fleet, at no extra cost, with new generation buses which are:
(i) environmentally friendly with reduced emissions;
(ii) more comfortable; and
(iii) with low floors to speed and facilitate boarding, especially for the elderly and handicapped.

I think this measure will be appreciated by everybody, not just students and geeks. But anyways, considering that most students travel by bus, this measure is most welcomed. Probably, we will stop getting big puffs of dark smoke in our faces from old buses now.

199. The actions of the Foundation will include:
(i) Donation of refurbished PCs pre-installed with Microsoft free licences to 20,000 poor families within the next 5 years;
(ii) Donation to NGOs of 10,000 PCs refurbished with Microsoft licences to set up IT classes for the poor in conjunction with the Empowerment Programme
(iii) Operation of an NGO IT Academy with the help of Microsoft, where free classes in IT shall be delivered specifically to IT teachers willing to acquire more precise knowledge and also to NGOโ€™s staffs and trainers.

This is one of my favourite measures in this budget! Refurbished PCs at a low price will greatly increase IT penetration in the country. But I do not understand the Microsoft licenses choice. Why not Linux or some other open-source OS and software? This would effectively save millions since licenses need not be bought. It would also increase the Linux and OSS (Open-Source Software) awareness in Mauritius. The first point says Microsoft free licenses. This is ambiguous. Is it Microsoft-free or Microsoft freebies? I think I can see Microsoft’s sponsorship here, so if the licenses are not going to cost anything, then whatever!

201. For the population at large, we are continuing to bring down the price of telecommunications. Since 2005, the cost has fallen as follows:
(i) for international bandwidth by 52 per cent for 2 Megabite per second
(ii) for ADSL internet access at 128 kbs by around 24 percent;
(iii) for mobile calls to fixed lines by 20 percent;
(iv) for international calls from fixed line telephones by 84.8 percent.

By far my favorite point! I mentioned this above. Price cuts in sight, but no speed increase anywhere on the horizon! 52% increase in… 2 Megabite?? Megabite? LOL! Another mistake! And coupled with the kbs mistake! This is really fun! The people writing the budget speech should really check up their units and what they write. Imagine some international folks reading the budget speech. Serious lols in sight! Megabite! Just don’t go interpreting that in French! ๐Ÿ˜›

52% decrease for 2 Megabit per second? I never heard of that one! I believe 2 Mbps is still priced at Rs.10,000/month (US$ 334/month), which is well above the average Mauritian family’s budget. Specially considering that 8Mbps is available abroad for Rs.1200, from Orange! The other price cuts mentioned could be seen easily though, specially the mobile fees that have been steadily decreasing.

If I could request anything for the next budget, I’d request that we get higher-speed Internet at an affordable price. 128Kbps and 512Kbps are really outdated nowadays in the Web 2.0 age, with sites like Youtube, high-definition content and online gaming demanding more and more bandwidth. The Internet talks in Megabit nowadays!

202. The DBM computer loan scheme will be extended to Net PCs being launched by Mauritius Telecom to offer inexpensive computers costing Rs 7,000. The Net PC will be connected to a central server and, except for absence of a hard disk, will have the same capability as a standard PC. At the same time, the Net PC will be connected to the internet via the server. To finance the Net PC, the DBM will provide concessionary loans over 5 years for the full cost of the equipment and three yearโ€™s worth of internet access.

Personally, I have doubts about the performance of the NetPC. I haven’t tested it personally, but making a system like that work on anything less than a Megabit connection is going to bring some serious lags. Moreover, the budget speech mentions “will have the same capability as a standard PC”. I doubt this statement too. The time it will take for things to go between servers and clients on a slow and crammed network will be a major factor in performance.

Nevertheless, it might interest some people. I think NetPC costs a monthly fee. In the long run, it might be better to just purchase your own low-cost machine. That’s what I would do, but people got their own opinions… so, they do what they want. ๐Ÿ˜€ A low-cost computer can be built for under Rs.20,000 if you know how to hunt for parts, and know what to buy.

203. The Ministry of Education will also work with Mauritius Telecom to develop hotspots for educational institutions and public places. In addition, they will jointly expand the school IT programme.

Hot spots? As in WiFi hotspots? If these are free, it will be absolutely great! But Mauritius Telecom? I doubt anything free can come out of this company.

Well, that’s it for my analysis of the parts of the budget that interested me, and possibly you too. Overall, it was an OK budget, with some good points and some bad points. Nothing highly new and creative, a lot of emphasis on poor and needy people, specially measures to combat poverty. Interestingly, there are some new issues addressed, like efficient energy use, and developing the IT sector and tertiary education. Less emphasis were placed on attention-hogging sectors, giving way to new issues. Of course, there was lots of emphasis on “how my Government did against your Government” talks, which was to be expected!

I’ll stop here. Post your budget reactions and post feedbacks as comments. Thanks for reading! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Guru

    Believe what we see, not what is being said. These are some good measures to some extent. We are still a developing country. Yet, it is good.

    Waiting for the implementation is all we can do. ๐Ÿ˜€

  • zazou

    Apart from the economic light bulbs, I don’t see any measures taken up to now by the goovernment which was mentioned in th 08/09 budget!