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Quality assurance framework for further and higher education

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NCHE-Malta.jpg“Government’s vision of developing Malta into an international centre of excellence in further and higher education by 2015 requires a modern regulatory environment that ensures sectoral growth and promotes high quality standards. The Government believes that the necessity of quality assurance, accreditation and licensing is not an option but a pre-requisite for such a vision. More and better education requires that institutions, agencies and policy makers in the fields of education quality assurance, accreditation and recognition of qualifications, work together to enhance protection for students and to assure quality provision. Government wants rigorous verification and inspection of standards and programmes of private and foreign institutions offering further and higher education programmes in Malta. We want to fully protect Maltese and foreign students alike and ensure they get value for money tuition and certification.”

This was announced by Dr. Louis Galea, Minister of Education, Youth & Employment, during the presentation by the National Commission for Higher Education (NCHE) of the recommendations for the implementation of a quality assurance framework and the adoption of regulations for licensing, accreditation and quality assurance of further and higher education institutions and their programmes.

The event was also addressed by Mr. Joseph F.X. Zahra, Chairman of the NCHE and other members of the Commission, as well as Mr. Frans Borg, Permanent Secretary, and Mr. Jacques Sciberras, CEO of the NCHE. The NCHE will be organising a seminar on Monday (28th January 2008) to present their recommendations to key stakeholders in the sector.

On the 21st November of 2006, soon after the establishment of the NCHE, the Minister for Education requested a study on the structure of Further and Higher Education in Malta as reflected in the Education Act (Cap 327) and asked for recommendations for reform to improve this sector.

The Minister reported that the NCHE has formally submitted its recommendations on the 11th December 2007. The NCHE resolution contains a study of the current situation in terms of regulations for further and higher education institutions and programmes in Malta, and a proposal for the adoption of a new set of regulations which will constitute a new quality assurance framework adequate for future development.

Dr. Louis Galea said that this work underpins the declared vision of developing Malta into a centre of excellence for manufacture, tourism, financial, health and ICT services. None of this would be possible without a common denominator – quality educational services. Government agrees with the NCHE analysis of placing quality as a central focus in the light of current expansion of state funded institutions, diversification of programmes and increased interest by private providers to invest in further and higher education services in Malta.

The Minister also explained how the proposals reinforce the objectives outlined in various policy documents of improving the quality of our education across the whole ladder of educational services in the country, including the National Strategic Reference Framework objective of ‘expanding and improving investment in human capital'[1], the National Reform Programme objective of setting up a competent authority to guarantee the quality of provision in further and higher education[2], and the pre-budget document 2008 which outlined the need for such reforms[3].

Mr. Joseph F. X. Zahra explained that in its first year of work, the NCHE conducted widespread consultation with all heads of institutions, governing bodies, student and staff representatives to identify the priorities for structural reform in the sector. Four priority areas emerged from these discussions. They included the need for reforms in licensing of institutions, the need for an accreditation framework for institutions and their programmes, the need to revise the governing structure of state funded institutions and a call to review the funding framework within which state institutions operate.

The NCHE identified licensing and quality assurance as a priority for 2007 and embarked on an intensive research exercise to evaluate the current international developments in accreditation and quality assurance, particularly the thrust of the Bologna and Copenhagen processes, and to integrate such considerations and best practices into a framework that is adequate for Malta’s needs. Mr. Zahra stressed the importance that such a framework be implemented immediately, to allow for the implementation of these recommendations during 2008. The NCHE believes that safeguarding quality standards in education is the cornerstone to attracting excellent education institutions to Malta, which in turn helps retain Malta’s best talent and also attracts the best students worldwide. In the long term all this will have a powerful impact on the attractiveness of Malta’s future labour force and potential for attracting foreign direct investment and increasing its research capacity.

Mr. Jacques Sciberras explained that the framework consists of the establishment of a competent authority responsible for licensing of all further and higher education providers, a new set of application procedures, and criteria for establishment and obligations for licensees which safeguard a minimum level of quality necessary from all institutions. Additionally, the license classification should be linked to the accreditation of an institution and its programmes, and their respective level mapped against the National Qualifications Framework. The proposals cover the establishment of accreditation agencies in Malta applicable standards to ensure their international recognition and reputation. The proposals also outline the standards for internal and external quality assurance and the process by which external accreditation and evaluation decisions are published. The classification of different types of providers by their awarding powers, the level of education they are authorised to provide, the quality of their provision and the recognition of the qualifications they award are also outlined.

This overall framework should provide an adequate tool to protect local and foreign students, to increase transparency regarding the accreditation status of institutions and programmes and the recognition status of all qualifications awarded in Malta, to improve the accountability of state funded institutions in the sector and to create a quality culture which can objectively identify areas in which the further and higher education sectors can improve their quality over time.

Mr. Zahra presented a report published by the Commission which outlines the proposed framework for licensing, accreditation and quality assurance for further and higher education institutions and their programmes. The report is available at www.education.gov.mt/NCHEqualityassurance.htm.

The Minister invited all stakeholders to understand this document and the implications of this process for their institutions and invited all heads of institutions to discuss the proposed reforms in a conference being organized purposely by the NCHE on the 28th January 2008 at the Aula Magna, Old University Building, St. Paul’s Street, Valletta.

[1] National Strategic Reference Framework, Malta 2007-2013 (March 2006), Table 5.1, Page 43.

[2] National Reform Programme (October 2005), Page 5.

[3] Families Growing Stronger – Pre Budget Document 2008, Page 56.

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