Evarist Bartolo | Sunday, 27 September 2009

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Education Minister, wake up

The European Institute of Education (EIE) claims that it is “licensed by the Ministry of Education of Malta to provide further and higher education.” In the last two years it has even referred to itself as being “licensed by the Ministry of Education and Employment as a tertiary level institution of the European University Programmes…” – who at the Ministry of Education has authorised EIE to make these claims? Which part of the Education Act entitles the Ministry of Education to license private centres as further and higher or even tertiary education institutions?
In fact, EIE is listed on the ministry’s website as one of 58 private tuition centres that are licensed to operate in Malta in areas ranging from beauty therapy and hairdressing to modelling, dancing, childbirth, diving, information technology and flying. It is not the first time that EIE have used logos and names of reliable universities like the University of Wales to give the impression that they “collaborate with the finest names… to provide quality educational programmes” and then it transpires that EIE had no authorization to use these names and that it had to take them off its website.
The EIE is misleading students when it defines itself as being licensed as a further, higher and tertiary education institution. The Ministry of Education should take the necessary steps and stop EIE from abusing students in this way. Why is the Ministry of Education failing to act? The Ministry should stop being an accomplice with EIE. In the last few years the Ministry has helped EIE by having the minister launch the Malta Centre of the European University, which is a fake university. It has allowed its premises to be used for the examinations of this fake university, giving students the impression that they were going through a recognised course that would qualify them for an MBA.
It is not enough for the Malta Qualification Recognition Information Centre (MQRIC) to count how many credits students go through to decide whether or not to accredit their courses. The workload is important but equally important is the credibility and quality of the awarding institution. Making our students go through 120 credits (double what they need) for an MBA awarded by the European University would change nothing. A fake university is a fake university.
MQRIC should also find ways of evaluating an overseas university and not simply recognise its courses because it is accredited by the country where it is based. Accreditation should not be automatic. Without evaluating their quality, MQRIC has recognised the courses awarded by the Public University Metekhi, a private university based in Tbilisi, Georgia, which works in Malta through EIE and has also established an EIE branch in Tbilisi as one of its departments.
The Ministry of Education has allowed this university to be listed as one of the overseas universities for which Maltese students can get a scholarship to follow a degree course. There are thousands of good universities in the world – why choose this small university which does not enjoy a good reputation in Georgia itself? There are some good universities in Georgia. But this small university is not one of them.
Georgia is still struggling to come out of a dark past. Natia Janashia, a former director of studies at a private college in Tbilisi, describes this recent past: “Corruption in academic life in Georgia occurs at all levels of the university, but it does not stop there. Widespread misconduct affects the entire higher education system. Corruption influences university examinations, the conferring of academic credentials, procurement of goods and services, and the licensing and accreditation of institutions.
“Instances of academic fraud have involved bribery, the establishment of diploma mills, forgery, and falsification of examination results, patronage, cronyism and professional misconduct among teachers. Students, parents, teachers, university administrators, public officials, and other professionals have all been perpetrators.”
In the last four years Georgia has taken steps to turn a new leaf by joining the European Union’s Bologna process in an effort to join the European Higher Education Area, but it still has a long way to go. Writing about corruption in the higher education system of Georgia, Ketevan Rostiashvili says: “There are about 154 private institutions in Georgia… the overwhelming majority of these private institutions are regarded as even more corrupt than the public institutions. These institutions often are created just to make money... Usually professors there are less qualified, or even if qualified, there are not all the necessary conditions of studying, building, class rooms, libraries and so on.”
He goes on to say that accreditation, though required by law, is not enforced seriously. So far accreditation in Georgia is only institutional, that is the syllabi and course content of the universities are not quality assured and accredited.
Last November, the International Institute for Higher Education Policy, Planning and Management concluded that Georgia has still a lot to change in its higher education system to make any real headway in the Bologna process: “The vast majority of the universities do not understand what they are doing and why. The general impression is that the higher education institutions implement initiatives of Bologna principles only because these processes are vital for the purpose of institutional accreditation of higher educational institutions. Thus, the formal regulations are adhered to, but the process lacks genuine understanding and authentic quality control.”
This is definitely the case with the Public University Metekhi. Quoting from its own website: “In December 6-10, 2007 the delegation from Tbilisi Public University ‘Metekhi’ visited Vienna, Austria at the invitation of Vienna International University. By the decision of the Vienna International University authorities the rector of Tbilisi Public University ‘Metekhi’ Prof. Manana Kirtbaia was conferred the rank of “Honorary Professor of the International University”.
The Vienna International University like the European University is another fake university. Austria’s accreditation authority says: “Since 1 August, 2003, International University has again the status it used to have before January 2001, i.e., according to our information, the status of an institution not recognized according to the educational systems of any country in the world.”
A university that has as its rector a woman who goes around flaunting a professorship conferred to her by a fake university cannot be taken seriously, and our Ministry of Education and MQRIC should stop giving any credibility to this business concern based in Tbilisi, Georgia. One way of finding out the quality of a university is to look at the academic qualifications of its staff. If the Public University Metekhi has a rector with a fake professorship from a fake university, how can it expect its lecturers to have serious academic qualifications?
The person who runs EIE is in the issue group set up by the PN to chart Malta’s future in higher education. Is that why the Ministry of Education considers him untouchable and above the law? The Minister of Education should also stop dragging her feet and bring the Higher Education Bill to parliament so that we ensure top quality higher education and stop unscrupulous operators from cheating students.

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