Do we need another university in Malta? No, if it means having another University of Malta. Yes, if it means identifying the unsatisfied demands we have for more university education in our islands.
Malta is well on the way of having already two public universities: the University of Malta and the Malta College of Arts, Science & Technology (MCAST) as in collaboration with Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft MCAST has started offering first degree courses in four areas and the first students will be graduating in the coming months.
A number of local private education centres offer degree courses provided by a number of overseas universities. So the monopoly of the University of Malta is dead and buried. Setting a new trend, in the last few years hundreds of our young people have started going to mostly British universities to do their first degree.
Serious policy making should be evidenced based. The National Commission for Higher Education (NHCE) research shows that because of a lower birthrate even if more of our young people go to the University of Malta in the coming decade, from 4.973 (23% in 2008) to 5,800 (35% by 2020), the impact will not be substantial. The University of Malta will probably cope with these increased numbers. NHCE also says that the University should aim to attract 500 fee paying students every year from overseas for the coming 10 years.
Even if the University manages to reach this very ambitious target and absorbs these incoming students, we should still consider seriously setting up another university. Can we afford to? Do we have enough human resources to make sure that the necessary standards are reached and kept? We already have to fund the University of Malta, MCAST, ITS and other essential institutions like NHCE, MQC and other structures if we are to have top quality higher education in Malta. So we cannot afford any duplication and fragmentation.
We should explore realistically and with an open mind the viability of setting up a new university in Malta that will be very different from the University of Malta and MCAST in the courses that it offers and the way it offers them. We can learn from the new virtual universities that are being considered the universities of the future. We should also learn from the experience of the UK Open University to offer top quality courses to adults. This new university will open new opportunities for many people who for some reason or other are now being denied entry to the University of Malta. The new university can offer courses in new areas of study that are not being offered by the University of Malta.
One of the recommendations of the NHCE in its Further and Higher Education Strategy 2020 is to “attract 30,000 more students and adults in areas identified as a national priority for Malta’s economic, cultural and social development.” The University of Malta is not in a position to cater for this higher demand and we should consider setting up a new university to do so.
E-learning in tertiary education makes it possible to set up a new local university to enable more of our people to acquire the skills, knowledge and mind-set needed to succeed in the high technology world of the 21st century. Much of the change that higher-education institutions are now facing is due to rapidly changing learning methods in cyberspace. Virtual universities are being considered the educational environment of tomorrow and will be the most significant learning industry in the future. The sooner we wake up to this reality the better.