The laying of the foun­dation stone of the new campus of the Malta Col­lege for Arts, Science and Tech­nology is a historic event not just for the institution itself, but also for Malta’s educational and industrial development.

With the new campus, Mcast’s full-time student capacity will increase to 10,000- Joe Farrugia

The decision to establish a vocational college, which was initiated by former Education Minister Louis Galea, has reaped dividends to thousands of students who have completed courses provided by the 10 institutes at Mcast, and to Maltese society in general.

The initial years of Mcast were particularly hard and challenging. There was a chasm between secondary and tertiary education, which left many students who, for various reasons, may not have obtained the necessary qualifications to enter University, deprived of any opportunity for an alternative education. Many of these used to end up seeking low-skilled jobs with limited chances of career advancement.

The experience of the previous trade schools left a negative perception of vocational education in the minds of the public, which, except for the Fellenberg institute, created deep-rooted resistance to the notion of vocational courses.

Mcast has transformed the initial scepticism about vocational education into enthusiasm, and as the first students qualified from the institution, a positive word spread among all stakeholders – families, young people, businesses – that Mcast was offering quality education that offered young people the opportunity to study disciplines which were not available before, and which were in high demand in the labour market. For many young people, Mcast is their first choice to further their education.

All this ran concurrently with the entry of Malta into the EU. A reliance on domestic funding would have made it impossible for Mcast to expand the number of courses offered, and to cater for the influx of students in full-time and part-time courses, which exceeded projections at the time.

The proof of the pudding is in the positive and encouraging response by industry, and also the fact that many Mcast alumni have been successful in furthering their education in reputable institutions abroad.

Over the past three years, Mcast has benefitted from €20 million from EU projects aimed at upgrading our courses and to promote lifelong learning.

Today, the significance of Mcast is evident in the fact that it is the only institution that offers courses ranging from level one to level six of the Malta Qualifications Framework, meaning that the college is catering to students who have left the secondary school system without ‘O’ levels at foundation course level, right up to diploma and first degree level.

No wonder the number of full-time students has risen from 1,000 to 6,000, with an additional 3,500 following evening part-time cour­ses. This also shows that Mcast is responding to the need of re-training and up-skilling of many adults, making lifelong learning a reality.

With the new campus, Mcast’s full-time student capacity will in­crease to 10,000. This is necessary if we want to reach the EU 2020 targets of people in tertiary education.

One of my favourite animated movies – Robots – was based on the premise that ‘You can still shine no matter what you’re made of’. Nowhere in Malta is that more true than at Mcast. Our doors are open to anyone who wants to expand his horizons through learning.

Over the years, the institutes at Mcast have also raised the appreciation and status of particular trades. A farmer training at Mcast is more likely to be competitive and produce premium products through the scientific knowledge and techniques gained at the Institute of Agribusiness, for example.

Mcast has been influential in attracting investment to Malta, and a catalyst to the rapid economic transformation which the country has passed through during the past decade. The availability of skilled manpower is a major determinant of competitiveness, and many companies have relocated to Malta not necessarily because of lower costs, but because they could count on a reliable source of required skills.

The dynamism of Mcast lies in its ability to connect with industry and to design and implement quality courses and programmes that are customised to industry requirements within a short timeframe.

The new campus is a natural progression of these achievements, and will open doors to more accomplishments in future. It is not just the investment of €120 million in the state-of-the-art buildings and facilities which will bring this about, but also a dedicated team of governors, administrative and academic staff which places the students’ interest as the overriding priority.

I am optimistic that in the coming years, Mcast will continue to build on its reputation and establish itself internationally as a major centre of vocational training.

Joe Farrugia is president of the Mcast board of governors.

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