From a small department to a full-fledged ministry, higher education is receiving attention and resources within the Solih administration never seen before in the Maldives. With nation building at the center of its strategy, the ministry has already delivered on a number of campaign promises for the sector, and more are still to come.
How is the new administration transforming the higher education sector?
Several important changes are being implemented under the new administration. We have established a new ministry for higher education, which did not exist under the previous administrations, when the sector was driven by no more than a small department within the education ministry.
In my opinion, the most important and costly pledges of this government are in the higher education sector, and most have already been fulfilled. We have introduced a number of meritocratic programs for high-achievers to be able to study what they want wherever they want. This represents a considerable investment, considering that our best students will be sent to the best universities in the world. Providing our high-achievers with the opportunity to study at the best schools and come back to the Maldives to help improve the country using the knowledge they gained is an important step on the road to nation building. Furthermore, the government has pledged to provide every student in the country with free bachelor degree programs, so today access to education in the Maldives is free from kindergarten to university, which opens incredible opportunities for the coming generations to grow and build a better future. These programs have been developed in close collaboration with the finance ministry, to assure that they are financially sustainable in time, so that we can continue to provide our youth with opportunities regardless of the governments to come.
How can you assure the quality of the higher education programs?
The Maldives Qualification Authority is in charge of evaluating the degrees offered at Maldivian universities. This is a fundamental piece of our system and is designed to assure that our students get the highest standards of education. We have granted this entity the necessary legal authority and resources to demand the highest standards from educational institutions, and it will perform program and institutional audits to assure these programs are delivered in the proper way. This will pair with a nationwide training-needs analysis we are undertaking with an external consulting company, to find out exactly what the skill-shortages are in order to better direct the funding and the resources to where they are needed. In the past, this has been done in a very ad-hoc manner, but now we want to systematize the process so we can truly address the needs of the nation in terms of trained workforce. This will cover every sector, from tourism, to fisheries, construction or technology.
How does the country’s re-approximation with the West and re-ascension to the Commonwealth potentiate these nation-building educational policies?
Rejoining the commonwealth and aligning ourselves with our western partners should give us a lot of opportunities in the education sector. It will open doors for scholarships and exchange programs that allow Maldivian students to go study and gain experience in highly developed markets, and it will allow for a lot of knowledge sharing among the partnering nations. As an example, the Maldives Polytechnic, which is under this ministry’s responsibility, is in dire need of human building capacity. We need to provide the staff with exposure to vocational, training and education programs elsewhere. It would be ideal if they could get this exposure in the Commonwealth or OECD nations, as they have highly advanced programs. In that sense, reentering the Commonwealth and reopening our foreign policy to western partners can have a very positive impact on the country’s educational system.