MCAST principal removed as lecturer dispute leaves students fuming

The Education Ministry has informed MCAST principal James Calleja that his services are no longer required in an attempt to inject fresh impetus in the college gripped by industrial strife

MCAST principal and CEO Joachim James Calleja has been sacked
MCAST principal and CEO Joachim James Calleja has been sacked

Updated on 3 July with Mr Calleja's right of reply

The Education Ministry has removed the principal at MCAST, the government post-secondary institution currently gripped by industrial action, MaltaToday has learnt.

Sources close to the institute said the ministry informed the MCAST board that principal Joachim James Calleja’s services were no longer required.

A public call will be issued to find a replacement.

The decision to remove Calleja comes at a time when the college is locked in a dispute with the Malta Union of Teachers over stalled collective agreement talks.

Industrial action ordered by the MUT has been going on for over a month and students have been left without their exam marks.

The situation has led to growing tension between lecturers and students.

READ ALSOUnion directives leave MCAST students in the lurch over exam results

However, the sources said the straw that broke the camel’s back was MCAST’s recent decision to allow police patrols on its campuses with the right to search students.

The decision was immediately publicly criticised by Education Minister Clifton Grima, who said it was unwarranted.

Sources said the government’s decision to replace the college principal is aimed at “clearing the stifling atmosphere”, which has left students angry and lecturers frustrated.

“The government believes that by replacing the principal it can inject fresh impetus into the college,” the sources said.

Calleja was appointed principal and CEO of the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology in June 2018.

Prior to this appointment he was Director of the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) between 2013 and May 2018.

He had also served as Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education and Employment from 2011 to 2013.

PN accuses government of shifting blame

Meanwhile, in a statement the Nationalist Party accused the government of shifting blame with the removal of the MCAST principal.

"The responsibility of negotiations falls on the shoulders of Prime Minister Robert Abela who promises things but fails to dleiver, and Education Minister Clifton Grima, who failed to conclude talks with the MUT two-and-a-half years after the collective agreement expired," PN education spokesperson Justin Schembri said.

He said the failure to conclude collective agreement talks was causing anxiety among thousands of MCAST students, who are being depirved of their exam results because of industrial action ordered by the union.

"As always, Robert Abela is shedding responsibility and blaming someone else by firing the MCAST principal just two weeks before the end of the scholastic year," Schembri added.

We received the following right of reply from Mr Calleja:

I am writing to address the inaccuracies in your article, regarding my position as Principal/CEO of MCAST. It is imperative to clarify that I was not removed from my position. On the contrary, on 27 May 2024 the Deputy Principle responsible for administration at MCAST received the following note:

‘Good morning,

May I please inform you that request for Professor James Joacim Calleja to work beyond the age of 67 has not been approved.

PS MEYR has approved that he continues to work up to the end of academic year 2024.

Kindly Inform him accordingly.

Mary Scicluna


People Management Department’

My appointment in June 2018 by the Board of Governors led to a successful three-year term, followed by another extension of five years which expires on 31 May 2026. The Minister of Education himself acknowledged the academic advancements during my tenure extensively.

Contextually, the assertion that I am responsible for the stalled negotiations with the Malta Union of Teachers (MUT) is unfounded, unethical and in bad taste.

Written instructions to halt discussions were imposed on the College on 19 June 2024 by OPM’s Industrial Relations Unit.

Additionally, the decision to introduce community police on campus was a consensus decision taken between all senior managements, the Union, the Students Council and the Executive Police through a MOU which was signed by the respective heads aimed at ensuring a safer environment, which received wide support.

Your article misrepresented my contributions and the real circumstances. I challenge MaltaToday to substantiate the claims of my termination/removal as based on the alleged reasons cited in your article.’