The Indian Ocean tourist haven of Maldives on Tuesday opened a new chapter in higher education with the upgrading of the Maldives College of Higher Education to the status of Maldives National University.
Its first intake comprises 4,853 students enrolled for full-time courses of longer than a year, and more than 7,000 students registered for short-term courses.
Inaugurating the national university in a ceremony at the Dharubaaruge Exhibition and Conference Hall, Male, Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed appointed former education minister Dr Musthafa Luthfee as chancellor.
The Maldives College of Higher Education, MCHE, was incorporated as the national university in accordance with the Maldives National University Act 3 of 2011. The decree establishing the university was presented to current Minister of Education Sifa Mohamed.
Vice-rector of the MCHE, Hussain Haleem, told University World News that the college had been set up in 1998, bringing several training and research institutes under one umbrella to rationalise resources and assure the quality of existing post-secondary government institutes.
Before 1998, training was offered under different line ministries, said Haleem. For instance, there was an Institute for Teacher Education under the education ministry, and nursing training was conducted by the Allied Health Services Training Centre under the health ministry. There were also centres for vocational, tourism, hotel and catering, maritime and other training.
"Subsequent to a loan provided through the Asian Development Bank's Post-Secondary Education Development Project, government brought all these under one roof."
Under the project "international consultants gave us the vision to transform MCHE into a university". The College Council and consultants worked towards this goal and policies, rules and regulations and curricula were benchmarked against international standards, said Haleem.
All courses offered by MCHE were geared towards conversion into university status, and academic staff upgraded their qualifications.
The college currently has eight faculties, three campuses and two centres. The faculties are of health science, education, engineering technology, arts, Sharia and law, hospitality and tourism studies, Islamic studies, and management and computing.
With the upgrading, the university also hopes to introduce masters courses in Devehi, the Maldivian language, and teacher education during the next semester.
"Government has allocated us a special budget to gear MCHE for its upgrade as a national university. However, the government can incorporate other institutions such as the Marine Research Centre and Environmental Research Centre."
Haleem said the president had emphasised the need for research-based higher education.
Vice-President Dr Mohamed Waheed urged the gathering to make the new institution a symbol of academic enlightenment. "Maldives National University should have the freedom to create, learn and disperse knowledge in order to achieve academic excellence. It is timely that the first university in the country was set up in a democratic environment," he said.
Waheed also stressed the importance of nourishing an educational environment allowing academic freedom and independence from political influence, to ensure the proper functioning of the university.