Maldives National University: A law amendment has been proposed in the Parliament to relax the criteria for granting university status to colleges. Dhauru Photo/Abdullah Anoof Junaid

Opposition slams "tailored" University Bill

Thinadhoo North MP Saudullah Hilmy said that talk insinuating that the amendment is aimed at Gasim is very irresponsible.

9 July 2024

By Aishath Maha

Some Members of Parliament (MP) have alleged that the government's proposal in Parliament to amend the university law to give university status to establishments that have operated as colleges for 15 years without a break is a ‘suit being tailored’ for a specific individual.

It was first proposed to amend the law to grant university status to establishments that have been operating as a college for 15 years without interruption:

  • In the last 19th parliament in 2022

  • The amendment was moved by independent MP for Thulusdhoo Constituency Ibrahim Naseem

  • However, the amendment was rejected by the MDP-majority parliament

Then last year, the Solih government proposed an amendment to the Act to grant university status to 10-year-old institutions.

The bill was reintroduced by this government at the start of the new parliament. The amendment was moved again this time by Maafannu South MP Abdullah Rifau.

'A suit tailored for Gasim'

The bill was passed in Parliament and debate began on Tuesday. Some MDP members in the opposition have criticised the bill for being designed to benefit a particular person.

Similarly, some MPs who spoke in the Parliament while debating the bill accused it of being an amendment proposed mainly for Gasim's financial benefit.

Vaikaradhoo MP Hussain Ziyad said the amendment was introduced in the last session of parliament and one of the purposes of extending the period for converting a college into a university was to maintain the prestige of the university.

“What I am saying is that this is not rly an amendment or any major changes being brought to the Act, it only lacks the location and the beneficiary company's name. Everything else is in place,' said Ziyad, referring to the Villa College owned by Maamigili MP Gasim Ibrahim.

Ziyad also accused the government of not really caring about higher education for rejecting the emergency motion filed by the MDP on Monday, concerning how some students studying abroad on student loans were not being deposited funds.

Cyryx College owner Ahmed Shareef also took to Facebook and accused the bill of being designed for a separate college. He said the previous government had done many things to expand a certain person's business and now it is an amendment to the law to expand that business further.

The previous government had also given the individual about MVR 2 million per month and building and land, Shareef also alleged.

".. The latest bill sent by Dr Muizzu's government on Tuesday is designed to prevent anyone other than the rich man from claiming the university run by him," Shareef's post said.

PNC members thank Gasim

While such allegations were being made, PNC members have praised Gasim's efforts to provide higher education.

The Baarah MP said Gasim has spent his entire life providing higher education to Maldivian students.

Thinadhoo North MP Saudullah Hilmy said that talk insinuating that the amendment is aimed at Gasim is very irresponsible.

"The person they are pointed at has provided a lot of services to the education of the country. Yes, the Honourable Gasim Ibrahim. Even before the establishment of Villa College, Gasim had sent students abroad at his own expense to complete various levels of courses. Especially until PhD levels”, he said, noting the services rendered by Gasim.

Velidhoo MP Mohamed Abbas also thanked Gasim.

“I would like to note that Villa College, like a national university, has produced a large number of academics in the country,' said Mohammad Abbas.

"I strongly condemn the remarks made by some people against the founder of Villa College, Member of Parliament Gasim Ibrahim. I don't think it is his fault that he owns Villa College and continues to provide education to our children for a long time”.

Mohammed Abbas also denied the MDP's allegations that the law is being tailored for a particular person.

As the law currently stands:

  • University status will be given to places that have been running as colleges for 20 years

  • If a foreign university is operating in Maldives, it must have been registered in that country for 10 years; the amendment does not change this 

In addition, the amendment requires a college to meet seven additional conditions when applying for conversion to a university. Some of these include:

  • Conducting own or external programs in at least three areas of Maldives National Qualification Framework Level 7 and Level 9

  • At least 1,000 students enrolled in courses from Level 7 and above of the Maldives National Qualifications Framework

  • Be a college with experience in working with international organisations

  • At least 10% of the academic staff teaching in the academic programs should be PhD holders

  • Have adequate facilities to run a university that meets the standards set by the Ministry

There are currently two state universities in Maldives. They are the Maldives National University (MNU) and the Islamic University of Maldives (IUM).

If the amendment is passed, many of the institutions that are currently operating as colleges will have the opportunity to gain university status.