The Malta Independent 23 September 2019, Monday

The importance of having a ministry dedicated to universities, science and innovation

Philip Micallef Sunday, 14 July 2019, 09:03 Last update: about 3 months ago

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat recently claimed that having increased the number of ministries contributed to his administration's success.  Many countries including Spain have set up a ministry dedicated to universities, science and innovation and is proving very positive. 

The new challenges of globalization require that our university  and other tertiary education institutions have a dedicated interface to the areas related to the knowledge economy.  The world has changed and yesterday's solution of treating primary, secondary and tertiary education in same manner no longer holds water. In this way a dedicated ministry can align with higher efficiency the policies related to University and higher education with those of research and innovation and the rest of the country. One needs to have maximum coordination with other ministries to ensure that any policy in other areas affects university and tertiary institutions positively and tertiary education institutions can contribute positively to their implementation and sustainability especially when it comes to human capital considerations.

When tertiary education falls under same ministry as compulsory education there is the tendency for the political importance of the latter to outweigh the tertiary educational due to the sheer numbers involved.  Problems and challenges of tertiary education are completely different from those of obligatory education. University and other tertiary education Institutions need to be the main catalysts of progress and the prime social ladder for all Maltese.  Tertiary education needs to be adequately financed on a per student basis as our counterparts in North Europe including' the Scandinavian countries. Our tertiary education needs to attract the best resources to join its teaching and research staff.  University and other tertiary institutions are preparing our future citizens and Malta's success depends heavily on the quality of its graduates.

If we want to improve our tertiary education standards this dedicated ministry must participate and provide input to all new laws being formulated which have a direct and indirect impact on tertiary education. 

University is the place where most research in Malta should be taking place and tertiary education - private industry- government synergies should be in full swing. Tertiary education is completely different from obligatory education. Tertiary education cannot be treated as a "nice to have" matter or as a cost but as a fundamental investment. In most European countries it is estimated that one euro of investment in tertiary education generates four euros of wealth.  This is from purely an economic perspective and does  not take into account the cultural richness tertiary education generates.

Tertiary education is independent from Government on paper yet can only be fully independent if also economically independent.  One wonders whether after paying salaries and current expenses how much is left for tertiary education institutions to embark on a meaningful long term strategy that will produce first class graduates prepared to take Malta into the new disruptive world of 2020s and beyond.

Giving the desired importance to tertiary education by having a dedicated independent ministry, albeit small, could be a first step to better prepare our citizens to compete in a more competitive world.  Hope this article will give rise to a constructive non partisan discussion on the subject.

 

 

Philip Micallef was a University of Malta Council Member from 2004 to 2008 and formerly CEO of Air Malta, Melita Cable, Bermuda Regulatory Authority, Malta Enterprise and Executive Chairman of Malta Communications Authority after a 20-year career with Olivetti and France Telecom in Italy, Switzerland, Spain and France

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