02 July 2003

Search all issues

powered by FreeFind

Send Your Feedback!

Snelling’s vocation

MCAST Principal Roy Snelling was put in charge of bringing Malta’s vocational education back to life in 2001, having served for 35 years in the field. How does he cope with Malta’s way of doing things? Here he speaks to Matthew Vella.Roy Snelling

Roy Snelling’s 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 MCAST’s prodigal return from political burial by appointing an Englishman at its helm – it’s 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 you’re 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.
"I’m 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 and re-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 MCAST’s corporate structure, the only exception being the Institute for Tourism Studies, which falls under the Ministry for Tourism.
Snelling outlines the vision for MCAST’s 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 sector.
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 to another.
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 it’s not going to be easy. We’ll try", he says.
So far, the labour market has responded positively. When it comes to IT for example, Snelling says this year’s 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 I’m confident this will have a major impact."
Since vocational training is becoming more essential, why hasn’t the University of Malta, like many other foreign universities, edged in to take more of MCAST’s 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 well.
"We need to demonstrate to the UoM the quality of our provision. It is difficult to persuade the university unless we can show what we’re offering - by having our students equip themselves with the ability and potential to succeed at university.
"This happens elsewhere in the world, I don’t see why it shouldn’t 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 don’t compete or duplicate and unnecessarily waste resources."

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, 2 Cali House, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 02, Malta
Tel: (356) 21382741-3, 21382745-6 | Fax: (356) 21385075 | E-mail