MARKS AWARDED FOR QUALIFICATIONS IN A SELECTION PROCESS

Case notes investigated by the Parliamentary Ombudsman

N0001

The complaint

A private citizen contended that while “… the Government of Malta holds as incontestable the value of university degrees in respect to employability (and this is actually underscored by numerous sectoral agreements made by the Government over the years, where university graduates are given a Qualification Allowance)” he failed to understand why top posts in the Civil Service continued to be regularly awarded to persons who are not in possession of a university degree. He mentioned three positions for which he had applied, elaborating on the marks he was awarded by the selection board and added that in the three selection processes, the marks awarded to the applicants’ qualifications were minimal. He added that notwithstanding his First Class BSc (Hons) Degree in IT not only was he not selected for the positions but he also failed the interview and was surpassed by people who did not possess a university degree.

During a meeting held at the Office of the Ombudsman, he clarified that his complaint was not specifically directed at any of the selection processes which he mentioned, but to the routine practice of selection processes in the Civil Service whereby the maximum mark allotted to a candidate’s academic qualifications does not extend beyond 15% of the total mark. In complainant’s opinion this practice “… devalues and depreciates university education by awarding trivial marks to university degrees, whereas in fact, it should be the other way round, and persons with university degrees should be favoured over others who did not bother with pursuing and investing in a university education1”.

As explained during the meeting held with complainant, the function of the Ombudsman is that of investigating administrative acts and procedures and establishing whether the act or procedure with which a complainant is aggrieved amounts to maladministration. The Ombudsman does not comment on the criteria or sub-criteria utilised in a selection process or the weightings allocated to each of these, once it appears that these criteria were approved before the commencement of the selection process and were applied fairly and consistently by the Board in its assessment of the candidates in a selection process. Complainant did not contest this.

The Ombudsman considered that, as pointed out by complainant, it was undisputed that Government valued the worth of university degrees and in fact several years ago Government started paying a qualification allowance to public officers who further their studies. However, the primary aim of this payment was that of encouraging officers in the Public Service to improve their academic qualifications so that they could in turn render a better service to the general public. This, also in view of the fact, that academic qualifications although valuable, cannot and do not substitute the practical knowledge and experience possessed by a candidate, assets which are indispensable for a proficient performance in the position applied for.

The Ombudsman did not support complaint’s contention that qualifications were not being given adequate recognition in selection processes and that the 15% generally allocated to qualifications was negligible. It was pointed out that those who do not possess related qualifications are awarded no points for this criterion – consequently, the selection process does give weight to the academic qualifications. Moreover, as rightly pointed out by the Public Service Commission, selection processes for senior positions should not be based exclusively on qualifications and it was up to the applicants to demonstrate to the Selection Board that they merited a positive assessment in terms of the selection criteria for the position applied for. The Office of the Ombudsman held that the interview process, despite any inherent defects, was still universally applied and had not found a better replacement. Moreover, the interview was perhaps the best opportunity where a candidate’s vision of the responsibilities of the post/position applied for, could be tested in depth.

Considerations

In view of the above submissions, the Ombudsman did not take further cognisance of the complaint.

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