In partnership with the Malta Information Technology Agency (MITA), the University of Malta recently signed an agreement to create a blockchain scholarship fund. The EUR 300,000 blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) fund will be available for students who are interested in pursuing studies in courses related to the technology within the coming academic year.
Due to its relaxed technological and legal framework, Malta is home to several promising cryptocurrency and blockchain startups. This fund contributes to the country’s booming tech scene by encouraging the acquisition of skills needed to push the industry forward.
According to Silvio Schembri, the Junior Minister for the digital economy, in a statement to CCN, one major aim of the scholarship is to attract more blockchain firms to Malta. If such companies see that the climate is good enough for them to thrive in, more of them will set up operations there. This will contribute to the overall development of the country in terms of technological advancement.
The statement by Schembri reads:
“These companies need technical resources both to build and to operate by use of this technology, as well as experts in financial services, law, and managerial roles. We look forward to seeing the first Maltese occupying these important and well-paid roles whilst also hoping that these will expand considerably in the future as the industry continues to grow here in Malta.”
We are determined to strengthen our human resource to cater for the new emergent sector. Just launched a €300, 000 Blockchain and DLT scholarships fund via an agreement between @MITAmalta and @uniofmalta.”
The University of Malta has stated that it will continuously review various undergraduate and graduate international students in programmes like ICT and finance to make provision for Fintech cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence, DLT, and blockchain-related units. The review is aimed at aligning current educational programs with the strategy of the Malta government to make the country a blockchain island.
The MITA stated that a similar strategy will be repeated with other educational institutions in the country. There will also be training sessions to familiarize public sector employees with this emerging technology.
What is Malta’s Involvement Within the Industry?
According to Malta’s Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, cryptocurrencies are “the inevitable future of money” which could form the starting point of a future economy. As such, Malta is known for its huge strides to accommodate blockchain technology, not just for use in various sectors, but for the production of skilled labor.
Through various educational and legislative moves, the country is gradually positioning itself as a center for blockchain development alongside countries like China, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland, the U.S., and Turkey.
Blockchain education is quickly being introduced all over the world, in prominent universities like Stanford, Duke and Johns Hopkins which have added new related courses to their syllabi.
Turkey also recently commissioned its first blockchain research center and the London school of economics has also jumped on the wagon. Malta, however, is not only making strides in education but is also an active advocate for the widespread adoption of the technology.
Recently, Malta has captured the interest of several major cryptocurrency exchanges, including OKEx, Binance, and BitBay. Each one has announced plans to set up operations on the island due to its positive regulatory landscape as well as its attitude towards promoting adoption and inclusion within the space.
Binance is easily one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges and its plans to move to Malta has made waves within the industry. The announcement of similar plans by OKEx and blockchain firms like Neufund and The Abyss have also seen a positive reception in the community. Justin Sun, the founder of Tron has also claimed that he is contemplating a similar move. As more enterprises move, Malta becomes one step closer to its plans of becoming “the blockchain island.”
The country has gone as far as creating regulations that give exchange owners a safety net. The three bills, which were established in July 2018, address how exchanges, brokerages, asset managers and traders carry out their day-to-day operations. This makes them one of the most inclusive sets of regulations that currently exist in the industry.
The Maltese Parliament has also introduced a ‘financial instrument test’ which will determine whether a blockchain asset can be classed as a financial instrument, e-money, a virtual financial asset or a virtual token.
Malta Blockchain Regulations
The three bills passed by Malta include:
- The Virtual Financial Assets Act (VFA)
- The Malta Digital Innovation Authority Act (MDIA)
- The Innovative Technology Arrangement and Services Act (ITAS)
Although the bills were passed on the 20th of July, 2018, they were scheduled to take effect in October. Because of this, the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) told the blockchain sector to wait for the agency to finish all consultations with stakeholders. Following the passage of the bills, operators were advised to stay put until the official public announcement was made, before seeking authorizations and approvals.
The MFSA is scheduled to partner with the Delta Summit, a major blockchain and digital innovation event held in the country in October. Currently, they are still carrying out checks and offering courses to financial institutions. These courses will enable these institutions to qualify for the implementation of the Virtual Financial Assets Act, one of the bills passed into law in July. The passage of these bills makes Malta the first country in the world to create a regulatory system specifically tailored to blockchain enterprises.
The Virtual Financial Assets Act
The VFA Act was created to set prerequisite steps for blockchain projects that ensure compliance, including making their financial histories public.
The Malta Digital Innovation Authority Act
The MDIA Act specifies the creation of the Malta Digital Innovation Authority, a regulatory body which will oversee the development of the blockchain sector. It will also govern the creation and implementation of certain regulatory guidelines involving the Virtual Financial Assets Act and the Innovative Technology Arrangement and Services Act (ITAS).
The Innovative Technology Arrangements and Services Act
The ITAS Act will serve as the operating basis for the other two acts by defining blockchain-based enterprises and making them legally recognizable.
University of Malta Blockchain Scholarship Fund
The EUR300,000 University of Malta blockchain scholarship fund will be provided to students who specialize in finance, law, engineering and information, and communications technology. The entire scholarship fund will be distributed over a period of three years, allowing students to take the scholarship for blockchain-related Master's programs and Ph.D. research dissertations in the coming school year.
However, only courses that carry at least 30 ECTS credits related to DLT will be covered by the scholarship. The university has made it clear that any students who fit the criteria and are interested in broadening their knowledge of distributed ledger technologies are invited to apply.
The blockchain sector is still in its early stages and for now, there is a need for strong support in several areas-- the major ones being the development of skilled talent and the creation of regulations. Malta is addressing both areas with its blockchain scholarship fund and three-act regulation.
Although Malta is a relatively small island, the same cannot be said for the strides it has taken regarding blockchain. The country has placed itself as a frontrunner in the race towards a progressive blockchain future, with fierce competition from other equally progressive countries. In a time when the smallest developments go a long way, the introduction of regulations and support for blockchain education will positively impact the growth of the industry in a huge way.