The Directorate for Research, Lifelong Learning and Employability is the main public provider of adult education. Jobsplus, the national employment agency, the University of Malta and the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology and other public and private institutions also provide adult education. The regulation and external quality assurance of adult education falls within the remit of the Malta Further and Higher Education Authority (MFHEA).
The Ministry for Education, Sport, Youth, Research, and Innovation has organised its quality assurance, in adult education and training Malta Qualifications Framework (MQF) levels 1-4, by making educational establishments responsible for their own internal quality assurance and delegating external quality assurance to the Malta Further and Higher Education Authority (MFHEA).
Approaches and methods for quality assurance
The Malta Further and Higher Education Authority (MFHEA)
The Further and Higher Education Act specifies that the "quality assurance audit" shall include, among others, an external evaluation of the education establishment’s internal quality assurance mechanisms. To this end, the Malta Further and Higher Education Authority (MFHEA) supports accredited and prospective further and higher education institutions in Malta by providing guidance on areas which are considered important to ensure a quality assured learning environment in further and higher education. Through the National Quality Assurance Framework for Further and Higher Education (2015), the MFHEA established the parameters for a national external quality audits (EQA) system that complements the internal quality assurance (IQA) mechanisms of individual further and higher education entities. In view of this, the National Quality Assurance Framework for Further and Higher Education (2015) outlines eleven Internal Quality Assurance (IQA) standards, which are elaborated upon in the Step-by-Step guide to Internal Quality Assurance, to help further and higher education institution to develop their Quality Assurance policies.
External quality assurance performed by the Malta Further and Higher Education Authority (MFHEA)
Following on from its precursor, the National Commission for Higher Education (NHCE), which was established in 2008, the MFHEA was officially launched through the Further and Higher Education Act, which came into force on the 1st of January 2021. The MFHEA’s mission statement is "to foster the development and achievement of excellence in further and higher education in Malta through research, effective licensing, accreditation, quality assurance and recognition of qualifications established under the Malta Qualifications Framework."
Quality assurance is one of the pillars specified in the Further and Higher Education Strategy 2020 and the Draft National Strategic Action Plan for Further and Higher Education 2022 – 2030, underpinning all of the MFHEA’s functions.
MFHEA is an affiliate member of ENQA, the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education.
The MFHEA carries out the following functions:
• Maintenance of a register of authorised and accredited institutions and programmes available in Malta in line with Subsidiary Legislation 607.03 Licensing, Accreditation and Quality Assurance;
• Licensing of further and higher educational institutions;
• Accreditation of programmes or courses of studies at further and higher education levels;
• Recognition of programmes of study, whether home grown or foreign, by the Malta Qualifications Recognition Information Centre (MQRIC);
• Provision of external quality assurance of both educational institutions and programmes or courses;
• Preparation of key performance indicators and benchmarks the sector against international developments.
The National Quality Assurance Framework for Further and Higher Education (2015) established the conceptual context and parameters for an External Quality Assurance (EQA) system that complements the internal quality assurance (IQA) mechanisms of individual further and higher education entities. In view of this, the MFHEA has developed the External Quality Assurance Provider Audit Manual of Procedures. The EQA is a process for both development and accountability, which applies to all accredited further and higher education providers that are corporate entities. It examines that IQA systems are fit for purpose, are in fact functioning and effective, are sustainable and contributes to the fulfilment of the broad goals of Malta’s Framework for the Education Strategy 2014-2024.
External quality assurance is designed to be conducted in a way which reflects the relevant European and International standards, guidelines and criteria for external quality assurance and respect for international treaties and agreements relevant to further and higher education provision as ratified or endorsed by Malta. MFHEA offers its full support to educational institutions in following this process.
The EQA is conducted by a Peer Review Panel selected by the MFHEA and composed as follows:
Head of Peer Review Panel
A recognised expert in the field of delivery of the target institution, and/ or in EQAs
Between one and three, depending on the size of the target entities, being recognised experts in the field/s of delivery of the institution
MFHEA QA employees
Up to two MFHEA employees, with expertise in EQA procedures
Up to two students
MFHEA Timeline for the External Quality Audit
Prior to the EQA
An Educational Institution has to apply for a provider audit, five years from issue or last audit, unless otherwise specified. 23 weeks before audit visit the MFHEA will provide a link to the student questionnaire for the educational institute to distribute among its students within one week. The Educational Institution submits a self-evaluation report and additional documentation, 14 weeks before audit visit. 6 weeks before audit visit, a Peer Review Panel meets to discuss desk-based analysis, including determination of specific terms of reference, aims, objectives and research questions of a particular EQA; and the programme for the audit visit.
After the EQA
3 weeks after the audit visit a Peer Review Panel submits a draft report to the Quality Assurance Committee (QAC) and the educational institution. The Educational institution to submit feedback, 9 weeks after the audit visit. The Peer Review Panel resubmits final report to the QAC within 11 weeks of the audit report or two weeks of any request for revision from the QAC (whichever is later). Final report is submitted maximum 12 weeks after.
The audit will examine how providers manage their own responsibilities to ensure the quality and standards of the education that they offer. In particular, the following issues are addressed: 1. the fitness for purpose and effectiveness of the Internal Quality Assurance (IQA) processes, including an examination of the systems and procedures that have been implemented and the documentation that supports them; 2. the compliance of licensed providers with the established regulations and any conditions or restrictions issued by the MFHEA; 3. the governance and financial sustainability of providers, including assurances about the legal status of the provider, the appropriateness of corporate structures and the competence of staff with senior management responsibilities.
A list of established standard criteria for evaluations can be found in the External Quality Assurance Provider Audit Manual of Procedures and the Guidelines for External Quality Assurance Audits of Further Education and Further Education Centres.
The MFHEA publishes the full report of the quality audit, which includes findings (both good practice and what needs to improve), recommendations, and any decisions, conditions, or other formal outcomes. Prior to publication, the draft report is sent to the provider for feedback. The provider must submit its action plan to the QAC.
In Malta, the term "Awards" is used to denote micro-credentials, encompassing any accredited course that falls short of meeting the complete ECTS requirements for a full qualification. The distinction between an Award and a Qualification is determined by the number of ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) associated with the program. While an Award may not fulfil the total credit requirements, it still undergoes programme accreditation, with the key difference being the involvement of a single evaluator in the accreditation process.
Directorate for Research, Lifelong Learning and Employability (DRLLE)
The Directorate for Research, Lifelong Learning and Employability within the Ministry for Education, Sport, Youth, Research, and Innovation is a state provider of academic and non-academic adult learning courses, which include:
- home-grown courses from MQF 1 to MQF4, accredited by MFHEA;
- introductory courses levels A and B within the Malta Qualification Framework (MQF)
- courses comparable to the MQF level rated courses that have not been accredited yet;
- revision lessons for courses organised by external examination entities;
- open practicing classes for students who have gained considerable experience in VET subjects.
The DRLLE is subject to a cyclic mandatory independent External Quality Assurance Audit, every five years, of its internal quality assurance against the eleven MFHEA Quality Assurance Standards. In this regard, the first External Quality Assurance Audit was held in June 2018. The DRLLE commissioned the compilation of an internal quality assurance document purportedly to evaluate and appraise good practices within the Directorate that militate in favour of the Directorate’s quality assurance level. This document also proposed directions and recommendations, fit for purpose, that would steer the Directorate to full compliance with the MFHEA Standards. The IQA document was accepted by the External Audit Panel as a work in progress document that eventually would incorporate certain recommendations that emerged following the Audit Report of 2019.
The IQA document refers to the establishment of an Academic Board that includes quality assurance as part of its remit.
The Directorate’s Quality Assurance Systems (QA) shall:
• Guarantee that the quality of the course Programmes is well documented, verifiable and assessable;
• Facilitate access to information, making it clearer and more understandable for course participants, and all stakeholders;
• Promote a process of continuous improvement in Learning Programmes;
• Promote accessible Policies and Procedures to guide participants and all stakeholders in the development of the Directorate’s Quality Assurance System.
The role of the Academic Board is to ensure that the QA requirements are met. The Directorate adopts a quality assurance culture through continuous improvement, updating and re-evaluating current processes and practices. Moreover, feedback from participants and adult educators shall be gathered and analysed while a ‘student representative’ elected by the learners shall sit on the academic board. Specific tracer studies are commissioned to understand better the long-term effectiveness of the course programmes.
The IQA document also mentions the establishment of an internal quality system to ensure the delivery, monitoring and review of its programmes. Success criteria for programme delivery shall be disseminated amongst all staff members dealing with the academic element of teaching and learning, in particular with coordinators and educators. The Directorate shall have formal mechanisms for the approval, periodic review and monitoring of its programmes. These include networks with other institutions directly linked with lifelong education both nationally and internationally. Feedback shall be obtained from coordinators, adult learners and adult educators by the end of each learning year. The assessment process is periodically evaluated by the Academic Board to ensure validity and reliability. External review and second assessors shall be engaged in this regard. Research shall be undertaken prior to the design and approval of the academic programmes to be offered. Every effort shall made to include all stakeholders in the research process in order to ensure ongoing monitoring and review of the relevance and quality of such programmes.
In November 2023, the Ministry for Education, Sport, Youth, Research, and Innovation published the National Lifelong Learning Strategy 2023-2030. Pillar 3 of the strategy anticipates changes towards the improvement of the overall quality of life-long course provision. These changes fall under three Strategic measures namely:
Strategic Measure 1: Spearhead a paradigm shift in the perception of the DRLLE to a wider national role and respected point of reference which among others aims to improve coordination and dialogue amongst stakeholders, including adult education institutions, other Ministries, public and private entities, industry, NGOs, and members of civil society.
Strategic Measure 2: Professionalise educators and other staff working in andragogy which for instance by exploring the possibility of developing and implementing a system that formally recognises adult educators.
Strategic Measure 3: Improving the institutional quality of the Lifelong Learning which includes several initiatives amongst which the establishment of an internal ‘Think Tank’ to propose ideas for broadening and improving Lifelong Learning course provision and the review and update of the Internal Quality Assurance document (IQA),
Jobsplus which falls within the remit of the Ministry for Finance and Employment, is the national Public Employment Service (PES). It provides a range of courses (MQF levels 1-7) and schemes to promote lifelong learning essential in today’s mobile job market. Jobsplus continuously endeavours to align the training that it provides to labour market demands and clients’ needs whilst also doing its utmost to improve the quality of its services through upgrades and accreditation by both national and foreign institutions. Such certification is essential as it facilitates a smoother access into the work environment. Indeed, Jobsplus has in place several schemes aimed to assist job seekers as well as to offer employees upskilling opportunities.
Jobsplus is subject to a cyclic mandatory independent External Quality Assurance Audit, every five years of its internal quality assurance against the eleven MFHEA Quality Assurance Standards.
Jobsplus’ Training Design and Quality Assurance Unit designs training programmes, seek accreditation for courses, review any training material that is handed over to trainees, review assessment papers, perform unannounced spot checks during delivery of training as well as assessments. The unit hold meetings with trainers when a follow up action is required and, perform reviews of the course files including review on trainers’ correction methods. It also analysis feedback received from learners and trainers respectively. At the design stage of training programmes, following approval from the management, the unit consults relevant stakeholder and experts to ensure that the training content is in line with the industry requirements. The learners are not directly involved in the design of training programmes, however Jobsplus ask them to fill in a questionnaire at the end of the course/module. Jobsplus’ personnel also conduct a survey amongst those who do not show up for the course or drop out of the course.
Institute for Tourism Studies (ITS)
ITS provides courses at adult learning MQF levels and specialised training to address short-term and medium-term skill gaps in the local and international hospitality and tourism industries. The quality assurance procedure of ITS is described in the Quality Assurance Manual. Moreover, it is also covered in N.D. 11.2.
Institute for Education (IFE)
IFE provides adult learning courses related to pedagogy and child development. The IFE is subject to external quality assurance and accreditation by the MFHEA (described above) and its internal quality assurance procedure is outlined in the Policy for Quality Assurance and Enhancement.
University of Malta (UM) and Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST)
Both UM and MCAST offer courses related to adult learning. The quality assurance procedure of the University of Malta can be accessed on the respective website and that of MCAST is included in the Quality Policy Manual of Academic Procedures. The Malta College of Arts, Science, and Technology Act, 2023, enacted in July 2023, provides for the establishment of its own internal quality assurance system and a validation system based on external quality assurance as required by the relevant competent national authority for all its vocational and professional programmes and apprenticeships at all levels of the MQF.
The Quality Assurance procedure of both institutions is covered in Chapter 11.2.