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The NCFHE decision on AUM - Martin Scicluna

In his article ‘Consequences of Corruption’ (February 8), MEP David Casa took a sideswipe at the National Commission for Further and Higher Education (NCFHE), of which I was the chairman 20 months ago and which he accused of being “involved in licensing the land-grabbing ‘university’ exercise under way in the south… masquerading as an educational establishment”.

In fairness to the then board of the NCFHE, which took that decision in June 2016, I should point out two things.

The first is that the transfer of land to Sadeen Education Investment Ltd had absolutely nothing to do with the NCFHE. Our sole responsibility was to ensure that the application to set up a university followed the very tightly drawn criteria for accreditation laid down in Maltese law.

Secondly, that the process of accreditation, which took two years to complete, was guided by Subsidiary Legislation 327.433, which mandates appropriate due diligence and compliance review procedures to ensure that the quality assurance of higher education in Malta is compatible with the high standards required by the Bologna process for higher education provision in the European Higher Education Area.

Provided the accreditation criteria laid down by law were met, an applicant would be eligible for a licence.

As an ‘expert’ in the rule of law, Casa will appreciate that the accreditation process we followed had to conform to that law.

In reaching our decision, my board was fortunate to be advised and guided by a Quality Assurance Committee and a review expert panel of immense quality and complete probity to evaluate the application.

The quality of the advice my board received – which was followed to the letter – emanated from academics of great experience and expertise and was of the highest order

The names of the members of the Quality Assurance Committee (QAC) – made of top educational experts – are Professor John Portelli of the University of Toronto, who was also a member of the Commission Board and acted as chairman of the QAC. The others are Dr Tatyana Chircop, Dr Alex Grech, Professor Chris Haslam, Dr Alex Rizzo, Professor Tanya Sammut Bonnici and Professor Alfred Vella (now rector of the University of Malta).

The review expert panel was composed of three academics, who were recognised experts in one or more of the sectors of interest of the application and/or were experts in quality assurance. The panel consisted of Professor John Portelli, supported by Professor John Baldacchino of the University of Dundee and Dr Tatyana Chircop of Mcast.

I hope Casa will agree that the quality of the advice my board received – which was followed to the letter – emanated from academics of great experience and expertise and was of the highest order.

In 2016, when my board took the decision, it did so purely on the basis of the accreditation procedures set out in the law.

Moreover, the decision to accredit the AUM as a start-up university was taken based on the most rigorous and transparent process, scrupulous checks and balances and a complete focus on objective expertise.

In granting the licence, my board laid down 16 stringent educational and financial conditions for compliance, precisely to ensure that if Sadeen Education Investment Ltd failed to comply with them, NCFHE would have the necessary power as an independent body under the law to withdraw the university’s licence.

Unless there has been a change to those conditions since June 2016 of which I am not aware, that remains the position today.

The conditions were designed to guarantee from an early stage that any continued major failure to meet the educational or financial standards and conditions laid down would lead to withdrawal of the licence by NCFHE.

All the information that I have given here is in the public domain and, for transparency’s sake, was published at the time of the announcement of NCFHE’s decision.

I shall be emailing Casa a copy of the report setting out the decision reached in June 2016 for his enlightenment.

Martin Scicluna was chairman of the National Commission for Further and Higher Education 2013-16.

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