“A competent leader is a ‘people person’, and I strongly believe in providing a personal touch in my work – that’s my nature” Rose Anne Cuschieri, the Chief Executive Officer of the Malta Further and Higher Education Authority (MFHEA) asserts, insisting that “leadership must be humane.”
Rose Anne’s approach is no surprise, considering her background in the educational sector, as well as her single-minded ambition and determination. Starting out as an in-class teacher, within the Church schools' sector, she then became a school counsellor, while studying for her undergraduate, and, later, her postgraduate degrees. She earnt a doctorate in educational leadership and management, with the University of Sheffield, after which she was appointed Director for Educational Services at the Secretariat for Catholic Education.
“I can honestly say that I built the Educational Services section, growing it from 25 employees, to over 120. I set up a structure while I was there,” she explains. In the meantime, Rose Anne also lectured, part-time, at the University of Malta, and the Police Academy (now the Academy for Disciplined Forces), training recruits in leadership, communication, stress management and motivation. “I’ve been doing the latter since 1999, and I think I’m the only female civilian who has remained lecturing at the Academy for so long.”
This experience stood her in good stead for, in 2018, she decided to change tack, entering, for the first time a new educational sector, as she was appointed CEO of the MFHEA. “I had always worked within compulsory education, and, so, to leave this, in October 2018, and get into the post-compulsory field was a daring move. But I think, we’re reaping the fruits of our hard work,” the CEO smiles, looking back at the progress over the past few years.
Her role at the Authority encompasses overseeing the seven strands which comprise its activities, namely The Malta Qualifications Recognition Information Centre (MQRIC); Accreditation and Quality Assurance of institutions and programmes of study, and Validation of non-formal and informal learning; Legal and Compliance; MRC and EU Affairs; Corporate Services; Research and Policy; and Communications. “I maintain synergy between these diverse functions,” she explains.
The MFHEA’s roots were formed in the early 2000s, first with the establishment of the Malta Qualifications Council (MQC) in 2005, which focused on developing the National Qualifications Framework within the field of lifelong learning and professional development, geared towards the recognition of qualifications for the Maltese market. Concurrently, in 2006, the National Commission for Higher Education (NCHE) was chartered, to consult on higher and further education on the islands. In 2010, these two entities merged, and just two years later, in 2012, the new entity became known as the National Commission for Further and Higher Education. In 2021, the Commission became an Authority, thus gaining more autonomy and consequently increasing its role within the Further and Higher educational sector, locally and abroad.
Over the ten years since its official inception, the Authority has evolved in tandem with the growing and diversifying needs of the sector. The Authority ensures that educational institutions are compliant. “We don’t breathe down people’s necks, but we make sure they are in line with the regulations.” “We also have the Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications Section, for those professionals who are regulated and need a warrant. This section also links us to the European Commission, which enables us to tackle any new regulations, possible infringements and so on,” she explains.
Rose Anne’s perspective is, indeed, an international one, and the CEO is intent on making the Authority more open to global networks. The MFHEA is a member of the European Association of Institutions in Higher Education (EURASHE) driven to promoting further and higher education in Europe. The Authority is also a member of ENIC-NARIC, a European community of 55 countries, that focuses on the recognition of academic qualifications. “The connection keeps us in touch with what’s happening away from our shores, so we make it a point to attend the meetings and give our input.”
And, over the years, Malta’s input has become more highly valued, she attests. “For instance, we created very thorough regulations for online teaching and learning, so much so, that the OECD asked us for our expertise in this regard.
We have also been at the forefront of regulating micro-credentials, that is when a student takes different units across courses, to make up their diploma or degree awards, as well as in vocational certification,” Rose Anne outlines.
Of deep meaning to her, the CEO explains the MFHEA’s role in the Working Group on Fundamental Values within the European Higher Education Area and Bologna Process, of which Malta is co-chair. “In this working group we insist on recentring the core values in education, that is Academic freedom and Integrity, student and staff participation, institutional autonomy, public responsibility of and for higher education. As an authority we have recently created a document on ethics in research and education, of which I’m very proud.”
The CEO is also a Bureau member of the Steering Committee for Education within the Council of Europe, which brings her values into focus. “As a result, I also represent the Council of Europe on the European Wergeland Centre (EWC), which is a Norwegian entity working with students across the continent. Its philosophy is focused on integrating freedom of thought and expression within education. So, this perspective really permeates my entire activity,” she explains.
MFHEA is also a bureau member of ETINED (Council of Europe platform on ethics) and EPAN (Education Policy Advisors Network) both within the Council of Europe. MFHEA is also a member of the Bologna Follow Up Group and is represented on the Social Dimension Working Group, the Working Group on Monitoring the Implementation of the Bologna Process, the Global Policy Dialogue and Fundamental Values Working Groups.
MFHEA is also part of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Expert Groups, ASEM Education is a unique platform for interregional cooperation on education between Asia and Europe, focusing on dialogue and mutual understanding on common perspectives between the two regions.
Looking ahead, Rose Anne is driving the Authority towards ENQA (European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education) membership, which would link the MFHEA to a network of entities whose remit encompasses innovating and defining quality assurance processes. “We’re already affiliates of the Association, and we are working towards membership,” the CEO says.
Rose Anne is also proud of her complement of staff, which includes people from nine nationalities. “I enjoy the diversity of my staff. We have people from Italy, France, Poland, Scotland and even beyond Europe, working here. “At first, I wondered how it would work, but it does,” she smiles. It not only works, but the entity is thriving, driven towards adapting the sector to the new realities posed by technologies and societal shifts.
“A lot has changed in the ten years since the entity was established. People are more aware of the importance of education, and recognition of qualifications. More and more people change jobs, so we need them to be more versatile and knowledgeable. They need to be all-rounders. Therefore, life-long learning has become central. Moreover, we’ve had an increase in institutions operating in Malta, as well as more online courses. In the near future, we will also have to be content with the revolutions posed by AI and innovations such as Chat GBT,” she explains.
The Authority created a Malta Qualifications Database, launched in 2020. The database features detailed information on qualifications and awards in Malta and it is a reliable source to find answers to important questions which should be asked when looking into various study programmes. This database ensures that anyone wishing to further their education has the right information available to make informed choices and be assured that the programme in question is accredited and level rated.
Moreover, the entity has also been working on the National Strategy for Further and Higher Education 2030, which should be released over the coming weeks.
The future looks bright, for the MFHEA, and the Authority has its work cut out for it. However, as the CEO insists, “authenticity, and respect” will continue to be its core values, with fundamental principles guiding its path.
Photos by Inigo Taylor