MCAST Principal Roy Snelling was put in charge of bringing
Maltas vocational education back to life in 2001, having served
for 35 years in the field. How does he cope with Maltas way of
doing things? Here he speaks to Matthew Vella.
Roy Snellings job is not an easy one. As principal
of the Malta College for Science, Arts and Technology, he heads an educational
institution that not only has its students to look after, but also the
interests of the powers that be. It is the same story for every government
butt and, in this case, a foreigner has been chosen to head it.
Difference in style is a factor that informs this choice better
a corporate gentleman than the family-business padrino. So what better
way to re-christen MCASTs prodigal return from political burial
by appointing an Englishman at its helm its what Maltese
governments usually do with white elephants.
Snelling, however, acts like no stranger to this kind of small-island
dealing. He juggles education and governance in a focused manner, and
he knows that every aspect of the island comes into play when youre
heading such an important educational institution:
"There has been very significant progress in the last two years,
of which I think all my colleagues at levels take credit for before
me. It certainly has been fortunate that we had the support of all the
political parties and the support of the social partners. There has
been a lot of progress in building, refurbishment, and a lot of plans
will come to fruition in the next 12 months.
"Im pleased with the impact. The name MCAST does begin to
mean something with people from the business community.
"The downside is that sometimes the pace of progress is not as
quick as I would like to see. In certain areas, the procedures and processes
that you have to go through tend to be time-consuming and bureaucratic.
"The other issue is that you cannot plan the long-term development
of a college such as this without being confident that a satisfactory
level of funding will be forthcoming year on year. I think there should
be a level of commitment that a certain level of funding will be made
available for three or four years, so we can plan on this period and
also retain efficiency as much as possible."
Funding is a case in point for the college. In the last two years for
example, the three new institutes, earmarked to start operations under
MCAST last year, were delayed due to lack of funding. "But in addition
to that, we have seen the introduction of new curricula, a new attitude
toward the provision of education, especially for those who did less
well at school, providing them with new opportunities and to help them
progress from one level to another. These have included equipping students
with literacy, numeracy and IT skills."
The college itself has carried a lot of baggage under the weight of
former administrations and as always, having been bandied about in a
rugged manner was the weighty label of trade school, often
not favoured amongst the academically-driven educational curriculum.
"The starting point has been the general recognition by government,
political parties and the social partners in general," Snelling
says. "Malta has had a good record in investing within primary,
secondary and tertiary education but not in vocational education and
training for post-16 students or those who looked for retraining, up-skilling
"With EU accession it became evident that this was an area that
had to be addressed, especially in terms of international competitiveness.
An entirely fresh start was required to make sure Malta could compete
with other countries in terms of the best form of education, and MCAST
was set up with that purpose in mind."
MCAST enrolled its first students in October 2001. Today, over 1,000
new students are studying at the College. The College was created by
bringing together five existing training institutions together with
one newly established Institute, the Institute of Information and Communication
Technology. These six Institutes, now operating under the MCAST Corporate
Structure, are the Maritime Institute, the Institute of Business and
Commerce, the Institute of Art and Design, the Institute of Building
and Construction Engineering, the Institute of Electronics Engineering,
and the Institute of Information and Communication Technology.
By 2003, almost all post-secondary vocational and training schools will
be integrated into MCASTs corporate structure, the only exception
being the Institute for Tourism Studies, which falls under the Ministry
Snelling outlines the vision for MCASTs integrative structure:
"The corporate structure serves to ensure the economies of scale
needed to govern these schools, and to introduce corporate policies
in terms of student services, counselling and educational provision.
So the institutes retain a degree of independence and autonomy but within
the corporate framework."
Now three new institutes are being added to MCAST. These are the Institute
for Community Services, which will also include the old Hairdressing
and Beauty School and the Mother Theresa College. Education in pre-school
care and elderly care will be included in the institute. The institute
will also provide new programmes of services in the leisure and sporting
The other institute is that of Mechanical Engineering, which incorporates
vehicle engineering. Snelling says this sector had been partially neglected
in the past but is being prepared for greater accommodation of students.
One of the most exciting of new initiatives is the Institute of Agribusiness,
whose creation, Snelling says, has been informed with EU accession and
the rural development strategy in mind:
"An EU-funded scoping study was prepared to see what type of education
and funding would be needed for the future of students to be educated
along the lines recommended by the rural development strategy. That
study is with the ministers right now and we are awaiting a decision
to proceed. If we proceed along the lines of the study, we will see
new programmes, particularly part-time courses, being offered in new
methods and techniques and issues affecting agricultural industry."
Other ideas in the pipeline include a more extensive reach for MCAST.
Snelling speculates on the possibilities for the education of lab scientists,
lab technicians, pharmaceutical education, language development and
an expanded maritime institute becoming something of a regional institute.
Another one is media and performing arts. "These are the thoughts
for the next years. If there is funding and support available, then
we may start thinking about them properly."
MCAST is a major provider of off-the-job training within the ETC apprenticeship
scheme. Snelling says the old scheme at the ETC needed rethinking and
looking at: "It was probably too time-based and too narrow. Therefore,
we needed to look at new ways alongside ETC at how to make the apprenticeship
scheme more flexible and more responsive than it was.
"We are trying to move away from the old concept of length of time
and instead focusing on outcome and results. There are many new ideas
being floated about and we hope they will be put into action very soon."
Since vocational education has always tended to suffer under the preferred
academics route, MCAST has filled an enormous void when it came to accommodate
those students without qualifications. Today these avail themselves
of a great range of subjects which they can advance on from one level
With the availability of part-time courses and evening courses, which
attracted 2,000 students last year, Snelling says women could be a new
group of students to target as they prepare to reacquaint themselves
with skills they might have forgotten after having given up their past
jobs to bring up their family.
Snelling knows that vocational training and education is equally rewarding
and important to the economic and social development of a country as
academic subjects. He wants to have more bright school-leavers choosing
MCAST: "That will take some time and its not going to be
easy. Well try", he says.
So far, the labour market has responded positively. When it comes to
IT for example, Snelling says this years graduates will be on
the labour market this year, and the signs are encouraging: "The
courses we are offering are equipping students with the practical skills
to make an immediate impact on the organisation they work with. So I
am quite encouraged at the quality of the educational training our students
are receiving and Im confident this will have a major impact."
Since vocational training is becoming more essential, why hasnt
the University of Malta, like many other foreign universities, edged
in to take more of MCASTs services on board? MCAST already offers
Level Four national high diplomas, which in the UK are equivalent
to the first two years of undergraduate studies. Snelling wants to enter
into discussions with the UoM to have these same arrangements, as well
as having MCAST diplomas equivalent to A-level standard recognised as
"We need to demonstrate to the UoM the quality of our provision.
It is difficult to persuade the university unless we can show what were
offering - by having our students equip themselves with the ability
and potential to succeed at university.
"This happens elsewhere in the world, I dont see why it shouldnt
happen in Malta. We ought to have a more coherent planning mechanism
across the Islands for all post-16 students, some forum for the various
partners to sit down and discuss education and new services which dont
compete or duplicate and unnecessarily waste resources."