بســم اللّـه الرّحمـن الرّحيــم
Good evening Excellencies, friends, ladies and gentlemen.
I thought the Beirut group was bigger. But now I’m surprised and very happy.
Today, we celebrate the successes and the promises for a very special group of young people who represent the best of the best in our country. For a parent there is not a greater achievement than the successful education of a child. For a nation there is no greater promise than the enthusiasm of an educated youth. Today, we celebrate all those among you, to receive their education and now serve most ably for the people of this country.
And we celebrate those of you who will soon be leaving the country to acquire a university education. I salute all of you. You are very fortunate that you are able to get your education in a beautiful and very inspiring country like Australia.
While few students have the opportunity to pursue their education abroad, most of the Maldivian students will remain in the country and try to access the opportunities that are available locally. Provision of higher education in the country has improved steadily. But there is still a huge unmet need. In recent years the provision of secondary education and higher secondary education has
expanded rapidly. Within the last 10 years A’ Level education has increased threefold. In 2002 there were 1100 students enrolled compared to 3300 students now.
Similarly, the number of students who achieve 5 or more passes in the O' Level, and who qualify for the various certificate and diploma courses have increased from 25% to 32% within the last three years. Even though the A’ Level enrollment has increased threefold and 41 schools now provide A’ Level courses, still the percentage of students with access to A’ Levels is far below the national requirement. Annually 24000 students enroll in O’ Level courses. Out of which 3300 students proceed to A’ Level. This is only 13%. If we include all the students enrolling in certificate and diploma courses it becomes to about 37% that is proceeding to some form of higher education.
While the demand remains high, the supply is starting to increase. Higher education in the Maldives is expanding and developing rapidly. There is an expansion of both public and private institutions at the tertiary level. There are 9 public and private institutions that provide some form of higher education. These include two public institutions: Maldives National University and Maldives Polytechnic, and seven private institutions all in Male’ with a few extension programmes in the atolls. As a result of this expansion many more students now have opportunities in Maldives for post secondary education.
Last year there were about 11000 students who enrolled in various post secondary courses. And yet you will be surprised that so few courses are available at bachelors and higher levels, and so few students are enrolled. The total enrollment students in degree level courses in the country is 1100. We don’t know how many Maldivian students are studying abroad.
These 1100 students are in multiple-year degree programmes including bachelors and masters level courses. Therefore, we estimate that about 300 students are entering degree courses in national institutions. Just imagine, you have 24000 student completing … secondary and only 300 students are entering national degree courses. It is like 1.25%.
Although we are a middle income country our higher education enrollment ratio is about the same as that for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Compare this figure to other relevant social sector statistics. While 300 students start degree programmes, there are 3000 students waiting for drug rehabilitation. 300 students enter university and 300 teenagers got pregnant last year. About 600 I assume go to prison. I suppose the choice is very clear- we can build more schools or more prisons.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It’s clear that there is a great need for expansion of higher education and we must invest more. First the existing institutions must be supported to strengthen their programmes. Leading public and private institutions need higher caliber staff both academic and administrative. Masters and PHD level courses are needed to train the faculty of the university and colleges. We have sent people abroad for this.
Second there are many important areas in which local training programmes of acceptable quality are not currently available. In those cases we still need to continue to send people abroad for their university education. In future, government assistance will focus primarily in these areas, when it comes to government support for training overseas.
Thirdly, a legislative and regulatory framework of higher education needs to be further developed. An education bill is currently in the Majilis which covers tertiary education, and a new bill on a private higher education will now be prepared.
Finally, students need a more effective financial support system so that qualified students can continue their education. Few students have the means to pay the tuition fee, rent of apartment in Male’ and meet the daily requirements. Financial assistance they get, if any, is barely enough and in many cases less than adequate. Student loans they receive are not enough to complete their education. These are practical issues and the government is trying to solve these problems.
The National Higher Education Council has completed a study on financing of higher education in the Maldives. Based on this, the government will issue new policy guidelines and set up new programmes for providing financial assistance to needy students. To the result of this study, new policies will more closely match educational branches with manpower development needs of the country. The details of this new policy will be shared with the public following cabinet deliberations. But I can say now that the policy will make higher education more affordable. I t will provide incentives for students to do well in education, reduce regional disparities, retain intellectual capital in the country, and meet the need for workforce development.
While we develope the national higher education system, it is necessary to make the best use of scholarships we receive from friendly countries. Such scholarships have made invaluable contributions and still continue to be important for overall human resources development of the country.
I thank the government of Australia for the tremendous assistance they provide for education in Maldives. In the last few years Australia has increased its scholarships to Maldives successively every year. I am extremely pleased that AusAID will provide 42 scholarships this year to Maldivian students. Between 2009 and 2012 Australia will have provided 106 scholarships. We appreciate the friendship, the understanding of the government of Australia and its people. You are demonstrating practically that you really care for the development of our country. That you understand our real needs and most of all, that Australian people are highly generous people.
On behalf of the government, the President and myself, please convey to the Prime Minister her Excellency Julia Gillard, the Foreign Minister his Excellency Kevin Rudd, the head of AusAID, and Australian people, our most sincere gratitude.
Dear High Commissioner, Excellency Ms. Kathy Klugman.
Thank you and your staff for being such good friends of Maldives. Excellency, you are a witness to the enormous contribution that has been made by the AusAID alumni in this country. You look around the room and you will see dynamic young leaders who are actively contributing to the national development of this country. Australia could not make a better, more long lasting and effective contribution in any country.
It’s a very happy occasion for the people of Maldives and for me. I hope that all recipients of scholarships will understand how special they are and appreciate the rare opportunity they are getting. I urge you to make the best use of the opportunity you have and return home so that you can serve the people of this country.
On behalf of the President and myself, congratulations to all the recipients of this year’s Australian development scholarships and Australian leadership awards. You deserve a huge applause.