Islamic Minister reportedly planning Islamic university in Maldives

Representatives of the Maldivian government have requested assistance from India’s Jamia Millia Islamia University in setting up an Islamic University in the country, reports Indian media.

The Business Standard reports that a delegation from the Islamic Ministry, led by Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, has visited the Delhi-based national Islamic university.

“Highlighting the Maldives’ successful assimilation of Western education into Islam, the visiting minister underscored the need to promote Islam, which was liberal, tolerant and integrated varied influences,” reported the Business Standard.

As part of an Islamic education drive, the current government has introduced Arabic lessons to schools, promising to focus on Islamic education and the study of Quran.

The paper reported Shameem as pointing out the Maldives’ had been “immensely successful in making women equal stakeholders in the country’s affairs as was evident from the assumption of high offices by them in different walks of life.”

Following the conclusion of the country’s recent Majlis elections, both the Commonwealth and the EU observer missions noted the “extremely low numbers of female candidates,” with a total of 23 female candidates – just 5 of whom were elected.

The World Economic Forum last year reported that Maldivian women experienced relative equality in terms of health and education, they were found to be falling behind in terms of political and economic participation.


President establishes Council of Higher Education

President Abdulla Yameen has re-established the Council of Higher Education, appointing his Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed its head, local media has reported.

Haveeru has reported that the council will be tasked with setting the criteria for courses at Maldivian higher education facilities as well as handling the transferring of students’ credit.

Joining the vice president on the council is reported to be six cabinet ministers from the ministries of health, youth, finance, fisheries, environment, and the Islamic Ministry.

They will be joined by Villa College rector Dr Ahmed Anwar, Dr Simad Saeed, Dr Ibrahim Saeed, Deputy Education Minister Azleen Ahmed, Director General of the Education Ministry Fathimath Amira, and Chancellor of the Maldives National University Dr Mohamed Zahir Hussein.

Vice President Jameel yesterday visited the Maldives National University, explaining that expanding academic opportunities was of the utmost importance to the new government.

Earlier this week, the Anti-Corruption Commission ordered the reevaluation of vetting procedures in the previous administration’s tertiary student loan initiative.

“[THe] Vice President spoke of the government’s vision to introduce short term professional training programmes for youth in fields such as offshore-financing, managerial economics, banking, accounting, auditing and tourism,” read a President’s Office press release.

During the meeting, Jameel also noted the government’s desire to include the youth in nation building.

Recently appointed Home Minister Umar Naseer this week revealed his intention to introduce obligatory government service for school leavers, explaining his motivations to Minivan News:

“We need to bring youth into a disciplined system where they get up early, become presentable, pray, have breakfast, work, and well, become responsible.”

“One of my objectives is to increase the number of trained professionals which will be useful in protecting the independence of a small country like ours, ” Naseer continued.

The Ministry of Education last week released its aims for the first 100 days of the Yameen administration, revealing a 19-point plan including the introduction of the Quran as a subject for grades 1-7, greater civic education, as well as greater professional standards for teachers.

According to the Ministry, the government will choose two islands to establish Arabic medium schools within the first 100 days as well as expanding special education and child protection policies.

As part of this plan the ministry is seeking to assign Quran teachers for all Schools before the academic year 2014. The ministry’s Permanent Secretary Dr. Abdul Muhsin Mohamed said that the ministry is still short of 26 Quran teachers to achieve this this objective.


Q&A: MDP vice-presidential candidate Dr Mustafa Lutfi

Dr Mustafa Lutfi was appointed as the running mate of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed for the upcoming presidential election on September 7.

He previously served as Minister of Education in Nasheed’s administration, having resigned from his post as the first Chancellor of the Maldives National University following the controversial transfer of power in February 2012. The MDP has continued to allege that the change in government last year, was a “coup d’etat”.

Dr. Lutfi also previously served in the cabinet of Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Mariyath Mohamed: What made you decide to accept the position as Mohamed Nasheed’s running mate?

Mustafa Lutfi: I accepted it very happily, not because of the importance or weight of the position offered, but because it is President Nasheed whose deputy I was asked to be.

President Nasheed is someone I deeply respect, as he played the most major role in the democratic revolution which has come to the Maldives. In my opinion, President Nasheed is among the few who has sacrificed much in order to guarantee independence for the Maldivian people – personal freedoms, to save the citizens from the repression they were in, to bring a more fulfilling state of living to the people – and also because President Nasheed is the most loved and respected person in this country. A chance to work with such a well-respected, loved man is a cause for happiness to me. I extend thanks to MDP and President Nasheed for appointing me, as they have done so by placing utmost trust in me.

MM: Many people have commented that by using the slogan “I will not be a baaghee” (nethey veveykah baaghee akah) you are campaigning with a highly negative message. Why was this theme chosen?

ML: I think then there is some misinterpretation. By the slogan, we are not meaning to say that I will not bring about a coup d’etat. What we mean is that we Maldivians are saying as a whole that none of us will be traitors, that we will all say no to coup d’etats.

Previously, we have often talked about the brutality, violence and bloodshed. Besides all of that, I have now come to know, through interviews I am conducting for a book I intend to write, that a far more painful effect has been made on the people – the psychological trauma. This is something we must talk openly about now.

MM: What aspects of governance will you focus on if you are elected?

ML: We are mostly looking at how the country’s development has been set back as a result of the coup d’etat and are focusing on setting that right.

Some people interpret ‘development’ to mean the construction of jetties, or seawalls, or large buildings. But what we mean by ‘development’ is not this alone. The root of development, as meant by MDP, is the individual person. The improvements that come to the person’s health, how his thoughts and ideas are broadened and developed, improvements to the individual’s social status and economic contentment. Our development goes full circle, and covers all aspects of an individual citizen’s life.

Sustainable development can only be achieved through the changes that come to an individual and his way of thinking.

Policies, Implementation and Impacts

MM: We have seen that, even in the previous MDP administration, development projects are completed at comparatively very fast speeds. This has at times given rise to concerns about the environmental impacts of such work. How much attention has been given to environmental impacts during the planning of your new policies?

ML: Sustainable development cannot be achieved if, in the process of development, the environment is harmed. The environment and its protection are very high in our priorities.

MM: The Decentralization Act was passed during Nasheed’s administration. In recent times, we have often heard reports of the councils facing hardships due to both budget constraints and a lack of cooperation from state authorities. Is the MDP aware of this, and are there any plans to empower and strengthen decentralized governance?

ML: I strongly believe that the people must be given the freedom to make decisions on matters that will impact them or concern them. It won’t do to just decentralize governance – they must also be given necessary training, a support structure must be set up, as well as a functional oversight mechanism.

MM: MDP’s education policy details increased opportunities for higher education both locally and abroad. However, there are certain instances where students drop out of school and are thus unqualified to apply for higher education. In such instances, what plans do you have? For example, do you intend to broaden vocational training?

ML: Even in our previous government, under a programme named ‘Hunaru’ (skill) we gave them special training to prepare them for the workplace and even assisted them to find occupation. We also formed a polytechnic to train skilled workers under our technical vocational education programme, both in the atolls and in Male’.

Our aim now is to ensure opportunities for all youth to be able to achieve higher education. If they have to leave school before they obtain the required qualifications, they will have the option of enrolling in either foundation courses or technical vocational training.

Religious affairs

MM: When you were in Nasheed’s cabinet as Education Minister, you faced a lot of criticism from certain opposition parties for allegedly suggesting that Islam and Dhivehi be made optional subjects. In retrospect, do you think that was a wise decision, and would you recommend the same if MDP is elected again?

ML: That has been a much talked about issue.

One topic of discussion when drafting the curriculum was whether we should leave all subjects optional at higher secondary education level. And this too was just one among many topics simply opened for discussion.  However, in the middle of the debate, a group of people brought it to a halt. We were not able to hold a wide and free discussion on the matter, and through the influence of a certain group of people it was so decided that the subjects cannot be left as optional. That is how it happened.

MM: Would you work to make the subjects optional again in future?

ML: This is not at all about what I want. Nor about what the government wants. It is in essence about what the citizens want. The danger here is that these things go in the manner that a particular small group from among the citizens insists upon.  In a democracy, those who speak up and express their opinions are those who get heard. This is why it is important to engage in discussions about matters that will impact you.

A lot of people want to leave the subjects optional, especially higher secondary level students and some parents. Yet they did not speak up about it. The curriculum drafting team will only be aware of the views that are openly expressed. The group who spoke most openly and loudly on this matter were some from among the religious scholars. So this ended as these scholars wanted it to.

MM: It is a common criticism levied at the MDP that the party consists of ‘ladhini’ (anti-Islamic/irreligious) leadership and members. What level of importance is given to matters of the religion by your party?

ML: Our government was one that gave a lot of attention to religion even before. We established a separate ministry to handle matters related to Islam, we built a large number of mosques across the country, we facilitated prayer rooms to be made in schools. Our government was the one that first gave complete freedom to religious scholars to spread their knowledge. For the first time they were able to preach in mosques, streets or other public places, and to bring in foreign scholars.

President Nasheed and the rest of the leadership of MDP perform prayers and other religious obligations just like other Maldivians. The other aspect is belief.  Just saying that one is a Muslim is not enough, it is between oneself and God.

And unlike certain others, we do not lie. We do not try to defame others, or make up tales about people. We do not spread discord. So, as I see it, we are living within Islamic principles. No one can rightfully say that people in MDP are ‘ladhini’.

The biggest difference between us and certain other members of the opposition is that we do not go around saying we are religious, nor we do accuse others of being irreligious.

Moving from GIP to MDP

MM: You were very actively involved in the formation of President Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Ihthihaad Party (GIP).  What was your perception of people’s expectations from a political party such as GIP at that point in time?

ML: We brought on board people with the qualifications to be able to sit on a cabinet were we to be elected to run a government. This included many PhD holders, and people that society would accept as being respectable.

To be honest, we found members by using individuals who we intended to include in our cabinet, and their merit, as our strongest selling point.

MM: Do you notice any difference between now and then in what appeals to people, and what convinces people to support political parties?

ML: There’s a huge difference. Through the work of MDP, the majority of citizens now believe that a people who wants to come to power must approach the electorate with pledges which are based on policies formed with people’s needs in mind.

The opposition and their verbose criticism has assisted us in proving to the people that we are capable of fulfilling our pledges. For example, our pledge about connecting the islands with a transport mechanism. They mocked us and made sarcastic comments asking what would we join the islands with, is it with a thread, and so on. Today, the people see that we have connected the islands with ferry services, making travel between one island and another more convenient than ever before. The people know that MDP will fulfill any pledges that we make, in good quality and at a very fast pace.

MM: You initially joined the MDP government through a coalition between the party and GIP. After the GIP/MDP coalition split up, you joined MDP. What made you decide to do so?

ML: I had an interest in MDP and the work they were doing even when I initially left President Maumoon’s government. If I do join a party, it is my character to become very actively involved in it. However, at that point in life I wanted to focus on one of my life’s ambitions, which is writing. So during those two years, I wrote and published a number of books, while working at a boat construction company of a relative in Thilafushi. I was still doing this work when [President] Waheed approached me to form GIP.

I joined MDP later because I had worked closely with President Nasheed as a cabinet minister and he had won my respect even then due to his energetic approach and his empathy towards the people of Maldives. The leadership of MDP are people who very passionately engage in the reform and democratic movement, and this inspired me.

February 7, and moving forward

MM: Having worked so closely with President Waheed, how did you perceive the role he allegedly played in the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012?

ML: It didn’t at all come across as a shock or surprise to me.

I did have suspicions that Waheed would come out against Nasheed in the latter two years of the MDP administration. I did not, however, expect Waheed to join a group of people and commit an act of treason by orchestrating a coup d’etat.

MM: How much importance will be given to police reform, military reform and judicial reform?

ML: MDP is coming with the intention of conducting things with the best interest of the people in mind – and this too, will be carried out as is best for the people.

MM: At the time of the power transfer, you were serving as the first Chancellor of the Maldives National University. What made you decide to leave the post?

ML: I am one who never backs away from anything that I believe I must do at any given time.

In this way, last year it occurred to me that it is pointless for me to remain as chancellor of the university when the state of my country was deteriorating due to the events we faced. I thought it is more important, and something I must do in national interest, to join the movement against the coup d’etat, to actively work to bring back our democratic rights and freedoms. There are many others who are capable of being chancellor, and yet more people were needed at the time to actively dedicate time to this movement and come out onto the streets.

I believed that it is ultimately more important to express my sentiments against what I believe to be an unacceptable act, an act of treason, being carried out in my country.


The Maldives skill “gap” belying television reality

As a concept, it is a formula that has proved popular on television screens around the globe: take a high profile businesses or entrepreneur and allow people to compete in business challenges to earn a shot at the corporate big time as a fabled apprentice.

While reality shows like “The Apprentice” have proved hits with audiences in the UK and the US for the last decade, the Maldives this month concluded its first attempt at producing a business-focused reality TV – under the local guise of “The Interns”.

In a live final broadcast on Television Maldives (TVM) on July 15, a team of students from the Centre for Higher Secondary Education (CHSE) – coincidentally the show’s youngest participants – took the top prize of apprenticeships with some of the country’s largest private-sector employers.

But beyond the practical opportunities and job offers seemingly afforded through participation in reality TV contests, what real world opportunities does the Maldives’ private sector presently hold for the country’s next generation of graduates and school leavers?

Speaking to Minivan News this week, Deputy Minister for Education Anthu Ali said that for many school leavers in the country, regardless of their “academic merits”, a miss-match presently existed between the skills they were being given and those required by employers.

“When we consider the skills an employee needs in the country, say if they are applying for a secretarial role, the candidate may have the language knowledge of English and Dhivehi, but they are not taking short hand or these type of skills,” she said.

According to Anthu, the Education Ministry remained particularly concerned over the prospects available for pupils leaving school at 16, who did not going on to pursue further studies.

“A main challenge is for the 16 year-old pupils who are not going on past their O-levels,” she said. “For those students without the capacity to go into higher education or to do their A-levels, we need to be providing foundation studies.”

Anthu claimed that the government, over the last three years, had been working to try and develop a “platform” that served as a pathway for young people leaving school to help them into the job market.

“This is what we have tried during the last three years – even this year. What I mean by a pathway is not higher academic education, but vocational education,” she said.

According to Anthu, meetings have been taking place ass recently as this month with the tourism sector – as one of the country’s most significant employers – to increasingly tie the lucrative resort industry into this pathway.

She claimed that when looking at human resources nationally, there was a significant number of skilled jobs in the tourist sector being fulfilled by a mostly expatriate workforce.

Anthu said that local employees often “don’t have these skills”, adding that opportunities were required for training to open up these areas to local employees.

Social responsibility

Allied Insurance Company of the Maldives, one of the key sponsors behind “The Interns” show, said that beyond trying to boost its own Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, the television programme was devised from the company’s own concerns about finding suitable employees.

Company Managing Director Abdul Wahid Thowfeeq said the company had opted for a reality show format that would grant students the chance to gain experience in national marketing as well as showcasing their respective skills.

“The basic idea for the show came from the fact that Allied Insurance needed marketing personnel and we generally found there to be a lack of good candidates,” he claimed. “This is a problem faced by many companies here in the Maldives.”

Thowfeeq added that the company opted to back sponsoring a reality show as it hoped to encourage “real students” to experience marketing in a real world environment.

“We conceptualised the show so that even people at home could see there were opportunities here. There are the prospective jobs here, but the youth do not always appreciate the opportunities that are available,” he said, “They are also not aware of the expectations of their employers and the differences between education and workplace challenges.”

According to Thowfeeq, the objective of “The Interns” , at least from the company’s perspective, was fulfilled.

“Once the programme began, many of the participants featured got job offers – not just from Allied, but many other large-scale private employers in the country,” he said.


Discussing the inspiration for the programme, Thowfeeq said that while there were some similarities to “The Apprentice” in terms of content and design, the show was very much geared to local tastes and marketing challenges, such as having participants promoting the popular roadside beverage vendors around the capital.

He added that these challenges focused specifically on playing up the importance of key workplace skills such as customer service.

Thowfeeq contended that such challenges were of particular importance in the Maldives to provide skills in areas not presently covered in the national education curriculum for many students.

“Generally there is a gap between education and the job sector. When students complete their education, they tend to have high expectations of the job sector, but they do not have the orientation or skills to meet these needs,” he said. “A common feature of the job market is that employees do not understand about working in organisations or as part of a team.”

Thowfeeq said that besides better orientating graduates and school leavers to ensure they are prepared for work, employment should also have a positive factor in the country’s development.

“There are lots of influences on peoples lives right now, both societally and politically, we need to give a sense of hope to young people, hope that there is a promising career out there for them,” he said.

Thowfeeq contended that some of the challenges regarding training young people were n addressing that the skills required from workers in the country had drastically shifted over the last ten years.

“The skills needed for jobs in the Maldives are very different right now, especially in marketing. People need to be more specialised in their roles, more professional,” he claimed. “More training in this regard is needed for employers, but they are not getting opportunities. However, the youth themselves have to be willing to undergo this training, as well as be patient. The basic purpose of this programme was to educate the youth about prospective jobs. Such a show helps ourselves and other companies.”


In terms of sourcing contestants for the show, the programme makers are said to have invited colleges from across the country to nominate certain students for inclusion . The eight teams chosen represented institutions including Maps College, Clique College, Cyryx College and the Maldives National University.

The eventual winners were Jayyida Badhry (19), Mariyam Hana (18), Ali Aslam (18), Mohamed Sameer (18) and Ahmed Nashiu Naeem (19), all representing the CHSE.

Speaking to Minivan News, Badhry, who before the show had been enrolled as part of a business studies course at CHSE, said ‘The Interns’ had provided a unique opportunity to develop practical skills currently not provided within the education syllabus.

“The show was a really good opportunity as we got to have many different experiences such as in understanding TV advertising,” she said.

Despite the group’s relatively young age compared to rival teams, Badhry claimed that the team’s success had been a result of team work and trusting each other to use their individual strengths.

“We are still quite young as a group and we didn’t have much experience, so we tried to make up for this through team work,” she added.

Of the five finalists, four are expected to commence a special internship with Allied Insurance after Ramazan, while one of the team will be taking a role at a prominent national marketing group.

According to Badhry, the experience on the show was proving to have an impact on her life ahead of taking up the new role – a job she was excited to begin.

“For anyone who is interested, I would recommend them looking for opportunities like this to gain practical experience of work life, It has been really great,” she claimed.

However, Badhry’s fellow team mates stressed concern that while there were opportunities out there for young people in the job market, there appeared to be some reluctance within the wider business community to entrust students with such responsibilities.

Nonetheless, back in the world of local reality television Allied MD Thowfeeq claimed that plans were already under way for a similar – though perhaps not identical – business-targeted show for next year.

“We are thinking about continuing the focus with a similar show next year, though we would like to select another professions relevant to the local community where the skills of young people need to be improved,” he claimed.


Government outlines student loan funding amidst wider education criticisms

The government has moved ahead with a Rf50 million student loan programme in an attempt to support a larger number of local people in further education, replacing the “pocket money” grant scheme that previously supplied limited study funding free of charge.

The funding switch has raised concerns among some students and opposition figures, who claim that not enough is being done to support and prepare young people for the challenges of a more diverse Maldives job market.

Aminath Ali, Deputy Minister of Human Resources, Youth and Sports, told Minivan News that 340 students currently studying in higher or further education institutions in the Maldives were now able to claim an equal share of the government supplied funding, which was expected to be paid back once courses were over.

“Out of 367 existing students who applied for the loans, 27 were rejected as they were not currently studying in the Maldives,” she said.

The switch from the previous “pocket money” system has not been without controversy, with some local students demonstrating outside the President’s Office back in March in order to try and reinstate charge-free grants for those in higher education.

Student protesters claimed at the time that some of their peers appeared to still be getting the pocket money grant, while others were struggling to afford or obtain books required for their studies in light of the student loan switch.

A spokesperson for the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) this week also criticised the government’s implementation of the student loan system, as well as its overall commitments to education in the country, claiming that both the funding and the range of courses currently on offer were “not sufficient” for their own needs – or those of the job market that will one day employ them.

Aminath Ali said she accepted that a number of students had become concerned about the change towards providing loans instead of the free grants previously offered.  However, the minister claimed the new system was in place to try to ensure that both the country and citizens could afford further education on a more sustainable basis in the long-term.

“Under the current budget we cannot provide free learning and funding for students at higher education institutions.  The [student loans] are similar to mechanisms in place in countries all over the world,” she said.  “Say a student has a total loan amount of Rf24,000 over their studies, they will have to pay back this amount and a five percent administration charge to cover the role of their bank over an agreed period of time.”

According to Ali, once a student had completed their studies, they are then given six months to find a job before having to begin paying back the funding.

The deputy human resources minister claimed that sufficient mechanisms were in place to allow student to pay back their loans to the government over a maximum of ten years depending on their revenue.  Ali added that in consultations with the Employment Ministry, she was confident that graduates would be able find jobs within this six month period that offer long-term career prospects for those willing to work.

The loan system is also said to be backed by 100 percent scholarship programmes for students studying abroad in areas such as medical sciences and technology, according to the ministry.  Ali claimed that 180 scholarships, based on educational performance, had been offered between January and May of this year.

Separate funding had also been put aside by the Ministry of Human Resources for students to apply for when entering into further education during the present academic year.

The Ministry of Education claimed that the move towards student loans reflected the need for funding at a wider number of institutions in the country that now offer higher education courses to students across different fields of expertise.

DRP Spokesperson Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef said that while the opposition party welcomed measures to financially support students in higher education, he believed the new loan system had failed to take into account hardships faced by the young, particularly those coming from islands to Male’ to live.

According to Shareef, while previous systems had provided a pocket money allowance and even some forms of salary to fund study from the government’s purse, he claimed the new loans were insufficient to cover the expenses of moving to Male’.

“From the complaints we have received from students, [the student loans] are not a popular initiative.  Government must reconsider this system, changes are expected to be for the better,” he said.  “If the government was replacing [student funding] with a better system, it would be welcomed.”

When addressing the government’s own need to reduce national spending and its own budget deficits amidst commitments to organisations such as the International Monetary fund (IMF), Shareef said that the government would have been better served by “gradually” phasing out the “pocket money” system as opposed to replacing it completely.

“In a country, no matter how rich it is, education is not an area where funding should be cut,” he said.

In addition to concerns over the student loan system, Shareef claimed that he also believed that the current higher education curriculum was out of synch with the demands of the modern Maldives job market.

“The whole education system does not match up with the job openings currently being offered,” he claimed. “Until the 1980’s, we had limited [job] openings available , so the purpose of education and training was to get people ready for working the civil service,” he said.

With the advent and growth of the country’s the tourist industry along with the emergence of regional and multinational businesses moving into the Maldivian economy, Shareef claimed that the education system had failed to move with the times in making people ready for this changing workplace.

“There are not enough professionals available that are trained to work in management positions within the tourism, fisheries and even construction industries.  Education is simply not meeting these requirements,” he said


Students take to President’s Office over “pocket money” funding concerns

Hundreds of students gathered today outside the President’s Office to call for the reestablishment of a “pocket money” grant scheme and have vowed to continue strikes and protests if their aims for free funding are not met.

After sending a petition to President Mohamed Nasheed last Thursday (24 February) over concerns about the end of the pocket money programme for pupils who enrolled in Maldivian higher education institutions during 2010, a large number of students took to the streets today to try and guarantee a monthly grant for their studies.

In light of the protests, prominent education officials in the country have claimed that the pocket money system had been phased out for pupil enrollments in 2010 as part of plans establish a new student loans system.

Some higher education figures claim that the loan, which would be required to be paid back unlike the pocket money, would be more widely available, yet they accepted that a system of means tested benefits and scholarships may be required for protecting the most financially vulnerable and brightest students respectively.

Despite these claims, some student protesters who had gathered outside the President’s Office this afternoon said they were not convinced that the planned student loans system was working in a manner fair to all Maldivians wishing to take part in higher education.

Two of the gathered protesters told Minivan News that the strikes, which were said to have been organised by just a “couple of students”, represented concerns about the government listening to students and the overall cost of education.

The protesters went on to claim that at present, some students appeared to still be getting the pocket money grant, while others were struggling to afford or obtain books required for their studies, with no explanation being given about how the current system of grants and loans were being assigned.

Abdulla Asjad, another student at the gathering currently studying for a BTch (Secondary) in Male’, said that he believed the student loan system bought in to replace pocket money was also not being supplied to everyone.

“They are giving these loans to some, but not to all students. They have not explained the system at all,” he said.

Asjad claimed that as protests continued, he was aware that five or so students had been admitted to the President’s Office to meet Nasheed himself, but he said the outcome of the talks remained uncertain.

When asked though about the students’ next plan to try and seek the return of pocket money, he replied: “We will come back.”

Education challenges

Dr Mustafa Luthfy, a former Education Minister and the Chancellor of the recently opened Maldives National University said that amendments made to higher education funding were bought about in an attempt to make the system fairer for a wider number of students, rather than trying to cut spending.

Recognising the concerns of some students over the changes though, the chancellor said that he had been involved with meetings to discuss the student petition. The meetings were said to be jointly organised between the country’s current Education Minister and the Minister of Human Resources, Youth, and Sports.

“Before 2009, some students were given pocket money of about Rf1,000 by the government for studying certain courses at specific institutions,” he said. “The government decided to change to student loans in 2009. Those students that enrolled in 2010 knew they were getting that. But students who enrolled before this time were still receiving the pocket money.”

According to Luthfy, the replacement student loan system, which provides about Rf2,000 a month to students at an interest rate lower than that being offered by national banks, was designed to be offered to every student in higher education regardless of the course or the institution they were studying.

These loans were then expected to be paid back years later when students had graduated and were in work, he claimed.

Luthfy told Minivan News that he believed there had been some problems with the grants and loan system, such as the case of a number of students who had travelled to study nursing at an institution in India.

After financial difficulties hit the study programme and the local representative in charge was said to have been unable to cover their economic responsibilities, the university chancellor claimed that the government had intervened and brought the students back to the Maldives.

After putting them into a local educational institution – where the students were deemed to be missing some of the requirements needed to study there – the government also took the decision to offer grants to aid the pupils through additional foundation courses after they had already paid money to the Indian institution in question, Luthfy said.

Scholarship considerations

In considering today’s protest, the university chancellor said that although he believed the student loans were open to everyone, some changes to existing education funding would possibly need to be introduced in the future.

“The student loan system is fairer in one way,” he said. “But students do have to pay for this.”

Luthfy claimed that at present, institutions such as the Maldives National University were already using their entire budgets, so the reintroduction of grants like pocket money was not deemed possible by the government.

In looking to further potential changes, the chancellor suggested that systems such as means testing could be used to ascertain where assistance was needed for economically disadvantaged pupils or those suitable for scholarships.

“For the future, we will have to look at methods to help students who have financial difficulties,” he said. “Right now we also don’t have scholarship programmes, but we would have to introduce them in order to attract the brightest students.”


Maldives first national university inaugrated

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.


Maldives inaugurates Italian university outpost

The Italy-based University of Milano-Bococca has inaugurated an outpost specialising in marine research in Magoodhoo, Faafu Atoll.

The site, which was opened yesterday by President Mohamed Nasheed, is said to reflect government aims to offer wider educational opportunities for pupils and students in the country.

Speaking at the launch, Nasheed claimed that beyond opening up opportunities for international students to study marine life in one of the world’s “most spectacular tropical ecosystems”, the outpost would also allow Maldivian students to benefit from international-standard educational facilities without leaving the country.

The University of Milano-Bicocca was established back in 1998 and offers students a number of courses ranging from disciplines such as economics and sociology to mathematics, physics and natural sciences.


Education workshops mull Maldives university “masterplan”

The development of a higher education “masterplan” for the Maldives that could eventually establish a network of university and training facilities were the key focus of consultation workshops held in the country this week.

The workshops, which were held yesterday at Male’s Traders Hotel and earlier in the week – December 2 – at Gan, Addu Atoll, were held to consult with a number of stakeholders in the field of higher education for a study on expanding training opportunities in the country, Miadhu reported.

Speaking yesterday from the Traders Hotel, Education Minister Dr Mustafa Lutfi said the workshops form part of a study that is being jointly conducted with World Bank support to try and provide higher education for everyone in the Maldives, an ambition he claimed that was vital for developing the nation.

Maldivian Vice President, Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, who was also in attendance at the event, was reported to have spoke on the vital need for a university in the country; something seen by the government as a “work in progress” at present.

According to Miadhu, Dr Waheed stressed there was a serious need to look at the Maldives’ capability to support multiple state-run universities that were technically capable of meeting international standards.