Education Minister Evarist Bartolo has admitted that he is “not satisfied” with the American University of Malta and its “bombastic” talk of attracting thousands of students.
“My experience has made me allergic to those who come here and declare they will bring several thousands,” Mr Bartolo told parliament on Monday evening.
The minister was introducing the Further and Higher Education Bill, in parliament’s first session following the summer recess.
Mr Bartolo vented his frustration at the American University of Malta after praising another educational institute, the London School of Commerce.
That institute worked in silence and around 500 students from 80 different countries had graduated from it with an MBA in the past years, the minister said.
“Founding a university is not like opening a garage,” the minister said. “You have to start small, start slow, strengthen and grow. It is important that we jealously guard our reputation”.
The minister went on to make a broader point about investors who wanted to effectively buy an educational license to then offer “fake” academic programmes.
Founding a university is not like opening a garage- Evarist Bartolo
“I do not want offshore in education,” Mr Bartolo said. “We have to be wary of investors who come with many nice words but not much else. Our educational licences are not for sale”.
The minister also found time for a bit of self-criticism.
Seven years since assuming power, the Labour government was now a bit older and wiser, the Education Minister told MPs.
“There was a time in 2013 and 2014 when we were too hurried and we had too much enthusiasm to get this sector off the starting blocks. Now we have the experience and we should grow slowly and seriously”.
The American University of Malta has come in for considerable scrutiny for having failed to live up to its initial hype about recruitment figures.
It first began accepting students in 2017, when around a dozen enrolled in its programmes - a far cry from its original target of 300 students for its maiden year.
Last academic year, the university had around 100 students enrolled.
Academic institutions scrutinised
The government's own aim of having 33 per cent of Maltese students complete tertiary education had been exceeded, he said with satisfaction, with the rate now at 34 per cent, up from the 2011 figure of 26 per cent.
Mr Bartolo said that with Malta requiring an ever-increasing number of skilled workers, it was essential that local educational institutions were up to scratch.
That meant having an external authority with the tools to properly evaluate how institutions are working, he said. The new National Authority for Further and Higher Education, formerly known as the National Commission for Further and Higher Education, provided an important educational service to students in Malta and Gozo in its capacity as the source of local institutions' accreditation.
The University of Malta was also now subject to evaluation, despite its initial reservations. The University did not formerly have a culture of external evaluation, he said, especially when this evaluation was provided by a local structure. However, the University had come to accept this process as it attempted to embrace the spirit of the Bologna process and the European Education Area.
Mr Bartolo emphasised that the efforts of those previously in Government had led to this point. He thanked his predecessors in government, including former Education Minister Dolores Cristina.
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