an upcoming higher education institution
An interview with the Principal of Saint Martin’s Institute of Higher Education, Mr Charles Theuma, 18th August 2023.
Can you introduce the Institute to the readers, please?
Saint Martin’s Institute of Higher Education knows its foundation to 1985, meaning we are now closing our thirty eighth year serving the Maltese student population. Without doubt we have two memorable dates; the year 2000 when we were accepted to join the world-renowned University of London as a Teaching Institution, and the other was 2013 when the Institute was licensed by the Malta Further & Higher Education Authority (then the NCFHE) as an awarding body for qualifications at level 5 to 8.
The institute enjoys an alumni body of over 1,500 graduates, the vast majority of whom are University of London graduates, and we enjoy a track record of a very high percentage of First-class honours.
When you say a very high percentage of top classifications, but would this not be obvious at any institution that wants to attract students?
It may be so in other institutions, but not at Saint Martin’s. Our students are taught by the faculty at the institute, but all examinations are carried out exclusively by the University of London examination boards. The system works exactly as Maltese students sitting for the Matriculation examinations. Teachers in secondary schools are preparing students to sit for public examinations, and it is only the ability of the student, sitting for the exam of the external board that will determine the grade. The same with the relationship between Saint Martin’s Institute and the University of London. This relationship is totally transparent to students, parents and employers. The staff at Saint Martin’s Institute may only influence the results attained by a student through pedagogy and effort.
So, what is the magic of Saint Martin’s to attain such brilliant results, year on year?
Alas there is absolutely no potion involved! The results attained are only through a lot of hard work by all the staff employed at the institute. Our tag line, not just a number, is not just a marketing ploy. Every student is ready to offer testimony that they matter. Just to point out, through our two official audits by the MFHEA, the institute has been found to surpass the standard where it comes to student-centred learning.
I must emphasize that the Institute’s admissions criteria are not selective. We have a number of schools and the state university that place very stringent admissions criteria, with the aim of creaming the student pot in order to have the best intake. We do not. Our admissions criteria are very reasonable, because our creed is not based on entry but abilities proven at exit. Our first year of all our degree courses is a Malta Qualification Framework (MQF) level 5 diploma, and at this level we have students with diverse abilities, coming from different education systems in the EU and outside. In this first year we manage to bring everyone up to the required standards to excel in their subsequent University of London assessments. And whilst exams are important, our primary objective that our graduates will be deemed to be fit for purpose in the career that they would have selected.
How do you measure industry needs for your graduates to fit at their subsequent place of work?
The simple answer is networking. All my staff are very much involved in the major industry players — in fact we have many sons and daughters of industry captains who are alumni of our institute. We also organise events that introduce our students to employers for internship experiences, linking the learning that is ongoing during lectures and tutorials, to the place of work. This builds a network of trust and is very apparent that most of our graduates have signed their employment contract a year before they actually finish their degree. Around 40% of our graduates leave the island permanently to study for their postgraduate degrees and subsequently settle in their careers. We see ourselves as a bridge between compulsory education and a fruitful career. To date we have never received any untoward criticism of the quality of our graduates, although in all fairness, we are only responsible for the academic competences. Yet, we try to portray values of professionalism and ethical behaviour towards our students, which we hope will extend throughout their lives.
Another very important aspect to this, is that we are endowed with the extensive knowledge that is brought by the very famous professors that are active at the colleges of the University of London. These professors, that are leading names in their fields of study, offer us insight to what is going on the fields of business and computer science in the developed world. Our graduates, therefore, are exposed to learning of a global standard. No wonder that those who have the motivation have been accepted at a number of top universities, such as Oxford University , INSAED Paris and Bocconi University of Milan to read for their postgraduate degrees, with a handful even pursuing their studies to a doctorate.
Our belief is that we must not prepare graduates for yesterday’s jobs but we must have the foresight to understand the direction of the particular science, and lead the way, so that employers will be delighted in finding our graduates ready to lead their organisation towards the future.
You have mentioned examinations on more than one occasion. Some believe that examinations do not truly portray the abilities of a student. So, what is your opinion about this matter?
This is a very important matter that needs a thorough answer. An examination should be designed to assess the knowledge of the student sitting for that particular exam. This is principle number one! Our students are always prepared and able to answer any question presented by their examiners. And is this what is expected from a graduate at the place of work? What would an employer think if when asking a number of questions about a subject the response is an embarrassing silence? Examinations are meant to measure the level of attainment of a student in that particular subject, and those students who take their studies seriously treat their examinations as a challenge and an opportunity to show off how knowledgeable they are.
Principle number two is on multiple assessments. Our students are assessed throughout an academic year, providing a variety of assessment methods, that include both a home-based assignment carried over a period of weeks, as well as sitting for an invigilated examination. Students have the opportunity to sit for formative and summative assessment, and thus they can know where they stand in the study plans. At every instant of assessment, tutors provide feedback to the student for each piece of work, advising on how the assessed work may be improved. Not just a mark and that is it! Each student will get a breakdown of how the marks were allotted, and how a student could have performed better for each allocation.
And finally the presence of a strong relationship between tutors and the students under their mentorship. Students become jittery when they lose faith in their lecturer. This is principle number three. The institute boasts a core number of full-time academics that are totally dedicated towards the students’ well-being. Most of the institutions in Malta do not go to the expense of employing full-time academics, instead relying on visiting tutors. We do not believe that we can provide a sterling service to our students and their parents who entrust the future of their beloved sons and daughters to our institute.
What fields of studies do you provide?
We have two departments, teaching undergraduate degrees in Business and Computer Science. We have various specialisations in each field, and even here, we have the strength that both business and computer science are getting more reliant on each other and our students are able to get leading edge knowledge. The institute’s academics are involved in research activity and not simply rely on text books to teach our students.
What do you like best at the institute, and what would you wish you could do without?
The best attribute about the institute is the familiar environment that we all enjoy. Thankfully we do not suffer churn in our staff complement, and therefore most of us have been working in a closely-knit team for well over a decade. We have shared the joys and the downturns in each other’s life, and this has bonded the institute. Although our students spend three years (a relatively short period), they also feel such a bond, and the whole community is more like an extended family rather than a higher education institution — obviously with clearly defined parameters observed at all time.
I wish I could eliminate the noise that distracts us from our goals. Our lives are too disrupted, nowadays. We cannot focus on the job we have. Maybe this was pronounced these past years, with two general elections, a global pandemic with its ensuing disruptions of our lives, an invasion by a super-power, and the general congestion and traffic problems make running the institute that little bit more challenging. The distraction of unsolicited social networks is another issue that challenges the span of attention of students and lecturers alike. And most importantly, I wish we could rely on the strong standards of compulsory education we were used to just two decades back. The general standard in the main knowledge and skills requirements (especially in math & language) by our eighteen-year-old students today is by far inferior to the turn of the millennium. Yet, thankfully, students and their parents who come to us are fully aware of such a handicap, and make up for it during the first year of their higher education.
In a nutshell why should anyone, young or not so young, choose Saint Martin’s Institute as opposed to the state institutions, which, as you well know, are free?
Unfortunately there are tuition fees to pay at Saint Martin’s Institute of Higher Education. But at an average net cost of €2,000 for every year in tuition, I truly believe (as have the hundreds of families that have entrusted their children to us) that every Euro spent is good value for money. First, students are getting a degree from a world-renowned University of London, that wherever this is presented, it is accepted with respect and alacrity. Secondly, the success rate of students is extremely high. The state institutions announce the number of admissions, but not the dropouts. We are proud to say that we lose not more than 5% of our students between the first and second year, whilst thereon all students who embark on their second year will graduate at the end of the third year.
Can readers communicate with you in any way?
Yes of course, I may be reached on +356 2123 5451 during normal office hours or complete this online contact form and I shall call you for an appointment, or communicate with me through our website or Facebook or email on email@example.com
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