Higher education in Maldives – a concern for quality

The quality of education is one of the most significant characteristics defining the competitiveness of both specific institutions and the national education system.

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The Maldives, in just a little over the past decade, has had a boom in the education sector, with an exponential growth in students and institutions offering higher education. This has been expedited by the commencement of the free degree scheme by President Solih’s administration in 2019. According to the information on Maldives Qualification Authority (MQA) website, there are currently 98 approved local institutes offering post-secondary programmes across the country. 

However, in the race to meet this booming demand, there has been a brewing concern regarding the quality of the services rendered by some of these approved institutions. By concentrating heavily on graduation rates and attainment levels, policy makers, and institutions alike, have unknowingly allowed the effectiveness and quality of learning to take a backseat in some circumstances. Unfortunately, this is not a localized issue. Derek Bok, Professor of Law and President Emeritus of Harvard University reported that many universities have ignored the danger signs regarding the decline in the amount that students learn in colleges over the past few decades and he predicts that it will well continue to do so in the years to come. 

Concerns - a student's perspective

From students’ perspectives, the biggest concern regarding higher educational institutes in the Maldives is the varying quality of the programmes offered along with the learning experience. In this regard, some of the commonly raised concerns include:

  1. Inadequacy and outdated curricula, structure, and content of programmes compared to modern-day challenges and work life;
  2. Excessive amounts of information to be processed and duplicated in assessments as opposed to the understanding and application of knowledge that meets future professional needs;
  3. Lack of a systemic concept of the integration of curricular and extracurricular activities that aims at solving the problems of students’ development, especially their soft and leadership skills;
  4. Issues with lecturers such as being underqualified, ill experienced, unprepared, or lacking commitment and enthusiasm to teach. Students also express concerns regarding the heavy use of part-time lecturers by some institutions;
  5. Limited use of technology and mobile learning;
  6. Inconsistencies in the standards of content depth and assessment for programmes at the same level across institutions 

What can be done?

1. Need for qualified and passionate educators

There is a fine balance to maintain here. Educators must not only be subject matter experts but must also possess the right delivery skills. A good lecturer is also someone capable of catching the attention of students and be able to make the class session both engaging and educational. Therefore, institutions must take care of the academic team for them to remain motivated and engaged, which then gets better translated to students in a classroom setting. 

2. Gathering meaningful student feedback and making revisions

Simply collecting student feedback is not sufficient. Rather what is more important is taking actions based on the findings. If something is indicated as effective, then policies must be in place on sustaining it. If concerns are raised, they must be investigated, and due corrective actions taken. In such assessments, it is also equally important to measure student outcomes in terms of the performance of students through key learning indicators. This likewise assists in understating the effectiveness of the education process. 

3. Learning beyond the boundaries of a classroom setting

Learning does not stop outside the classroom. To augment specialist knowledge, extracurricular programmes and activities must be organized to develop skills and abilities. Organizing associations, competitions, trips, apprenticeships, and internships, among many others, are necessary. While helping to build a more coherent student body, they will also help address the common complaint employers have that graduates they hire are deficient in basic skills such as writing, problem solving and critical thinking. 

4. Interactive teaching and learning

Technology is here and continues to transform our lives in many ways. While Gen Y and Z’s are in higher education, it is naïve to believe the current teaching pedagogy is effective for them. Using digital technologies will push the boundaries of education. Simply using a power point slide deck to deliver a one-sided lecture is now considered ineffective for learning. Instructors should adapt to the changing needs and make classroom sessions more interactive with easy access to knowledge. 

5. Digital classrooms and mobile learning

While many colleges and universities in the Maldives currently use open-source learning management systems such as Moodle or Canvas, there is still scope for further growth and innovation. Institutions can use digital resources in a variety of ways to support teaching and learning. Electronic grade books, digital portfolios, learning games, and real-time feedback on teacher and student performance, are a few ways that technology can be harnessed to power learning. This also enables learning from anywhere on the campus and beyond.

Role of MQA

MQA has a massive responsibility to maintain the quality of higher education in the country. With nearly 100 approved institutions and stakeholders raising concerns regarding the varying quality, delivery, and content of programmes, proper monitoring is necessary. MQA is mandated to run institutional audits, and what would be helpful will be updates regarding these audits be made available on their website. While both the State and individuals spend a hefty amount for education, there must be value for money. After the institution and programme approval, MQA must ensure that the delivery is as per the approval. Actions must be taken for corrections. Afterall, it the future of the country at stake. With hundreds of graduates produced every year, they will be at the helm of running this country, working and leading in both the private and public sector. 


Data published by the Ministry of Higher Education shows that since the free education scheme was launched on 14 May 2019, 11,466 applications were lodged, out of which 10,000 applications have been approved. As of the first quarter of 2021, a total of 7,173 students are currently enrolled in their first-degree programs. While the government spent MVR73.6 million in 2019 for this scheme, a whopping MVR132.7 million was spend in 2020, and MVR34.4 million was spend in the first quarter of this year. There is very little statistics on how many students are enrolled in post graduate programs, but it is only a fair assumption to make that the numbers are on an upward trajectory.  What is undeniable is the high number of students and the investment in education, further solidifying the importance of quality education. 

Moving forward

In a resource-limited country such as the Maldives, institutions similarly face immense challenges in operations. Evaluating and auditing higher education institutes is no easy task. Auditing itself has challenges as many outcomes of education are;

  1. Hard to ascertain; special research-based measurements, descriptions, characteristics, and parameters are needed to establish them.
  2. Fully seen only a few years after graduation when a graduate has already some employment record.

Nonetheless, this is a task which must be undertaken. It is not the sole responsibility of one stakeholder to ensure that the quality of education is improved and maintained over time. This must be a combined effort of MQA, institutions and the students as well.

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