President Mohamed Nasheed this morning inaugurated the Maldives National University and appointed former education minster Dr Mustafa Luthfy as the university’s first chancellor, presenting him with the institution’s seal.
Acting Vice Chancellor Hassan Hameed will remain in the post until the university appoints a new Vice Chancellor.
During his speech at the inauguration ceremony, President Nasheed said it was necessary to appoint “a steady person to hold the rudder of the university.”
“He has to be a person who understands the changes occurring in the nation and society,” Nasheed said.
The President noted that both the right to education and freedom of expression were part of democracy and that the university would uphold these ideals.
”This university will play an important role in transferring democracy to our children, and our children’s children,” Nasheed said.
Dr Mustafa Luthfy said he hoped the national university would one day become “the Oxford” of the Maldives, and thanked the commitment of those who helped achieve the significant national milestone.
The new university represents the evolution of the existing Maldives College of Higher Education (MCHE).
Speaking later to Minivan News, Dr Luthfy explained that MCHE had managed to meet the conditions required to establish a fully fledged university; not least in the requirement of ensuring a certain percentage of staff hold PhDs and Masters degrees.
“That was not easy to achieve,” he said. “In the past the government has provided a loan facility to train staff.”
MCHE was already running degree programs and was particularly strong in teacher education, he explained – Luthfy himself started his career as a teacher and was the head of the early teacher training institute. By achieving university status, Luthfy believes that the Maldives will now be able to better establish relationships with regional and international universities and cooperate with regard to the exchange of knowledge and experience.
“The Vice President noted key areas where the Maldives had a comparative advantage,” Luthfy said, suggesting the Maldives could develop subjects such as marine and environmental science, Islamic studies, tourism and hospitality, as well as democracy and development.
University status also opened up the Maldives to competition, he noted.
“Nationally we have to improve the quality of education to compete with the education provided at other national institutions,” he explained. “The Maldives is now an open society, and there is a lot of interest among international universities to come here and promote their courses. We will have to compete with them.”
A major challenge, he said, was ensuring a steady intake of undergraduates from the schooling system.
“Maldivians love education, and certainly spend a lot on it. The problem is that the quality of the school education is not high – it’s only recently that we achieved a 35 percent pass rate at O’level,” he said.