[WATCH] University should be more open to migrants without certifications, says rector

University Rector Alfred Vella said that the system needs to discriminate in favour of migrants without certifications • Equality Minister Helena Dalli recommends ‘one-stop shops’ to facilitate migrants’ integration in education system

University of Malta Rector Alfred Vella said that the most unfortunate members of the community should not be turned away
University of Malta Rector Alfred Vella said that the most unfortunate members of the community should not be turned away

Emphasis needs to be placed on assisting students who lack skills or certifications, and the system ought to be discriminatory in their favour, University Rector Alfred Vella said.

“What I am talking about is positive discrimination,” Vella said during a seminar on immigration in the context of education.

“It’s no use allowing students into the programs and letting them flounder. We need to establish approaches to assist students in need to survive the programs.”

Vella said that more migrant students should be integrated within the community, as these “enrich the cultural and educational milieu on campus.”

“In isolation there is a crumbling of social cohesion,” Vella said, which is why it is necessary to ensure that migrant students are not left out.

“We need to move away from being an admitting university, where we look closely at the school certification to see what you have in order to permit you to enter our programs,” he explained. “That has been the model from time immemorial. It is time to move to another model which we can describe as a recruiting model in which we go out and aggressively seek to enroll students.”

The most unfortunate sectors of the community, such as refugees who do not have certifications, should not be turned away, Vella said.

“Luckily, we have already established a system to help not the migrant population but the local population – because even here, there exists a substantial fraction of persons who could have come to University if only it had been a recruiting institution rather than an admitting one.”

However, this doesn’t mean that the University will be removing admission criteria. “It is not within our interest to remove these criteria. But we need to be tolerant, as educators have managed to turn adult learners into the best teachers with degrees.”

The rector also announced the creation of a campus committee for race and ethnicity affairs, to complement the student counselling services which he said has come to recognise the need to be sensitive to trans-cultural differences.

A work in progress

Addressing the seminar, Equality Minister Helena Dalli said that extra effort is necessary to facilitate the integration of migrants into the education system.

The minister went on to recommend the creation of ‘one-stop shops’ aimed at bringing together the necessary solutions migrants require in the context of their formal education.

“The Human Rights and Integration Directorate falling under my ministry is there to assist with the networking this entails,” she said.

Equality Minister Helena Dalli on integration of migrants into the educational system

Doing away with administrative delays is one of five key points highlighted by Dalli, with another being the inclusion of “cultural mediators” and interpreters to “fill the gaps until the persons can act within a comfort zone,” and forge friendships.

“Obviously, friendships cannot and should not be managed by policy,” Dalli said. “But those responsible need to create spaces where newcomers are not isolated or bullied.”

To this effect, the minister suggested that educational institutions create an action plan to improve the integration of migrant students.

The reality of second-generation migrants is only being addressed now, Dalli said, as these students have a “different integration trajectory” as they grew up surrounded by Maltese culture.

She went on to explain that while these students tend to fare better than their parents, successful integration does not happen if their particular migrant community as a whole is not well integrated into society, as the child “gets mixed messages about almost everything.”

Dalli said that the Forum on Integration Affairs was set up for the purpose of establishing contacts between government and migrants communities, in order for solutions to be drawn up in unison.

Malta’s economic success will also pose a challenge, as existing educational resources will have to meet new and increased demands, she said.

As previously announced, the ministry will soon be opening up applications for MCAST courses in Maltese, English, and Cultural Orientation.

“Furthermore, we are also working with the University to introduce the first and much-needed certification for cultural mediators.”

The 2-day seminar titled 'Immigration and Education: A Need for a Policy' was organised by the pro-rector for student and staff affairs, the Faculty of Social Wellbeing, and the Faculty of Education and the Ministry of Education.

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