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Malta: MoE calls for more foreign universities amid concerns from sector

Malta is aiming to attract more foreign universities to the island, its Education Minister has said, amid concern about new legislation changing the requirements institutions must fulfill to become a university.

Middlesex University is one foreign institution to already have a branch campus in Malta.

“Making our institutions internationally competitive has always been a challenge given that the local university is free of charge for Maltese and EU nationals”

“We believe that Malta’s tertiary education sector can become internationally acclaimed just as Malta’s English as a foreign language market is a force to be reckoned with internationally,” Education Minister Evarist Bartolo said.

“We believe that Malta’s tertiary education sector can become internationally acclaimed just as Malta’s EFL market is a force to be reckoned with internationally”

His comments follow the publication of a legal notice last month stating that institutions now have to fulfill a lower number of criteria to be recognised as universities by the National Commission for Further and Higher Education.

The aim of the notice was to reduce the number of programmes that private universities must offer from six to four, Bartolo said.

“Institutions such as St. Martins, Middlesex University Malta and Computer Domain already offer less than six programmes, but the NCFHE took the programmes offered by their partnered foreign universities into account when green-lighting them,” he explained.

The plan has drawn criticism from the Malta Union of Teachers, which said it places too much emphasis on commercial potential “to the detriment of academic and educational standards” and questioned whether Malta has sufficient resources to monitor institutions adequately.

“It is an international norm that an entity awarded the title of university should (a) be multidisciplinary with different faculties, (b) have taught programmes, (c) have a continuous strong research element, and (d) support an element of outreach in the host community,” it said in a statement.

“The proposed amendments, however, mean that eligible entities in Malta will now be able to ignore three out of these four criteria and are free to adopt just one of these elements,” it continued.

It also outlined concerns that the reforms might undermine Malta’s international reputation by using a different definition of university to most other countries.

Of particular concern is a provision in the legal notice that petitions for university status will be considered “if the application is in the national interest”.

“The Union believes that this is completely unacceptable because it means that academic licences might be awarded on an ad hoc basis regardless of international academic standards,” it stated.

MUT also called for a study to ensure that domestic universities will not lose foreign students to private institutions, which it said “could make it impossible for them to operate successfully”.

“This is completely unacceptable because it means that academic licences might be awarded on an ad hoc basis”

Addressing this concern, Minister Bartolo said that increasing the number of foreign universities in Malta would help to cement Malta’s position as an international education hub without damaging domestic providers.

“Making our institutions internationally competitive has always been a challenge given that the local university is free of charge for Maltese and EU nationals,” he said.

He assured critics that domestic universities will remain a priority and will not lose government funding.

Speaking at a public consultation held by the Cabinet last week, he stressed that institutions must be accredited and their teachers qualified, and that the government “will not lower standards to accommodate inferior institutions”.

“We won’t give in to investors who don’t have these qualities,” he pledged.

The legal notice was issued three days after the government signed an agreement with Jordanian construction firm Sadeen Group, which will build a new institution, the private American University of Malta.

The Minister stressed that the two are unrelated but is in talks with two more as yet undisclosed foreign universities about establishing branches in Malta.

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