A new College of Applied Arts, Sciences and Technology is to bridge the gap between Maltese initial vocational education and the University of Valetta.
Since 1980, when a Maltese polytechnic merged with the university in the island's capital, professional higher education has been largely absent from the islands. This left those in pursuit of a higher degree in non-academic fields no choice but to train abroad.
The establishment of the new college is part of a comprehensive reform package that aims to improve Malta's education system to meet the needs of a largely service-based economy.
Other measures include the implementation of a national vocational qualification system and the establishment of vocational standards development and assessment boards.
A study published by the European Training Foundation last year criticised the lack of input by trade unions and employers' organisations in education.
Education minister Louis Galea suggested that voluntary cooperation between all stakeholders in education had been insufficient "out of some basic suspicion of each other's ultimate motives".
He also stressed that although on paper the college would complete the Maltese education system, the hardest nut to crack would be raising the status of non-academic education.
He said "the Maltese obsession with pursuing academic education" was probably the result of a lack of alternatives. "The university's virtual monopoly as the local tertiary education institution may be creaming off a significant cohort of students who would otherwise have opted for a technical specialisation."
Trade unions and employers' organisations greeted the new college with enthusiasm.