Malta, like most other EU member states, faces skills shortages, particularly in the STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – and ICT fields. So far, this severe handicap to sustainable economic growth has been remedied by recruiting foreign high-skilled workers. The time has come to challenge the acceptance of low achievement levels in our education system.

No country will maintain or improve higher education quality simply by maintaining the status quo.

Education policymakers must start disrupting orthodoxies and complacency in the higher education sector to ensure relevance and quality are embedded in the systems that prepare our young people for the realities of today’s complex workplaces.

The news that the Junior College will be offering four-year courses for students to complete their studies is a move in the right direction. The reason for this change has been described as a necessity to accommodate those students who have become breadwinners because of distressed family conditions. Even if these sad realities call for an overdue debate on the well-being of our society, the focus on how higher education needs to be improved should remain a broader priority.

The underperformance of our educational system has become an endemic challenge and has hardly improved in the last three decades.

Despite financial investment in public education being at EU average levels, Malta still has one of the highest levels of early school leavers and one of the lowest levels of higher education students in STEM courses.

New skills needs are emerging in the green and digital transitions of the EU society. Malta must ensure that our investment in education is productive by ensuring continuous development of skills required to remain economically competitive globally.

New skills needs are emerging in the green and digital transitions of the EU society

While different administrations have tried to improve education’s key performance indicators, employers still complain that many graduates they hire are deficient in basic skills such as writing, problem-solving and critical thinking. These are the skills that all functional academics and business leaders rank among the essential goals for a higher education graduate.

Improving graduation rates and levels of educational statistics will accomplish little if students do not acquire the skills that improve their career prospects.

Educators have an essential role in ensuring our investment in higher education is productive by delivering the highest quality higher education for all students. It is not enough for academics to believe it should be enough to say to the world, as they have done over many generations, “trust us, we are academics, we are experts in what we do, you can trust us to get on with our job and deliver. So please do not interfere with our work.”

Educators in the public and private sectors need to listen more to what other stakeholders in the education system have to say about what they expect from the investment in education.

Taxpayers will be better inclined to spend more on public education if there is a quest for greater value for money from government investment in higher education. This is a reasonable expectation as serious budget restraints and a range of competing priorities mean that every euro spent on education must give a return.

The pressure is on higher education leaders to deliver tangible results in many different ways.

Higher education institutions need to accept pragmatic regulation and independent quality assessment to meet the accountability expectations of taxpayers. 

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