Maldives National University, Photo: MNU

Controversial University Status Amendment Sparks Debate in Parliament

Allegations have surfaced in the Maldivian Parliament over a proposed amendment to the university law, with some MPs claiming it is tailored to benefit a specific individual.

The amendment, which seeks to grant university status to establishments that have operated as colleges for 15 years without interruption, has drawn significant criticism.

Initially proposed in the 19th Parliament in 2022 by Independent MP for Thulusdhoo Constituency, Ibrahim Naseem, the amendment was rejected by the then MDP-majority parliament. Last year, the Solih government proposed reducing the requirement to 10 years, but the bill was reintroduced at the start of the new parliament by Maafannu South MP Abdullah Rifau.

Debate began on Tuesday, with opposition MDP members accusing the bill of being designed for the financial benefit of Maamigili MP Gasim Ibrahim, owner of Villa College. Vaikaradhoo MP Hussain Ziyad argued that the amendment lacked only the location and beneficiary company's name, implying it was tailored for Villa College.

Further criticism came from Cyryx College owner Ahmed Shareef, who accused the bill of favoring a specific college and expanding a particular individual's business. Shareef claimed the previous government had provided substantial financial support and resources to this individual, a pattern he alleged continues with the current bill.

Despite these allegations, PNC members praised Gasim Ibrahim's contributions to higher education. Baarah MP highlighted Gasim's lifelong dedication to Maldivian education, while Thinadhoo North MP Saudullah Hilmy condemned insinuations against him as irresponsible. Velidhoo MP Mohamed Abbas noted the significant academic contributions of Villa College, likening it to a national university.

As it stands, the law requires establishments to operate as colleges for 20 years to gain university status. The proposed amendment also sets stringent conditions for conversion, including specific program offerings, student enrollment numbers, academic staff qualifications, and facility standards.

If passed, the amendment could enable many current colleges to achieve university status, adding to the two state universities, Maldives National University (MNU) and the Islamic University of Maldives (IUM).