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Apathetic students shun university autonomy debate with minister

In a poorly attended consultation event organised by the University Students' Council, Education Minister Evarist Bartolo rejects claims that a new law will stifle the institution's autonomy

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Tia Reljic
8 November 2017, 4:39pm
Education Minister Hon. Evarist Bartolo addresses students
Education Minister Hon. Evarist Bartolo addresses students
A controversial government proposal to introduce a board appointed by the Prime Minister to head the University of Malta will not undermine the institution's autonomy, the Education Minister said.

Evarist Bartolo insisted that other proposals included in the consultation document strengthen the university's autonomy.

He was speaking to journalists after a consultation event organised by the University Sudents' Council (KSU) on campus this afternoon. Journalists were asked to leave the tent by KSU officials soon after the event started because students "feared" speaking out in front of the press. Only 30 students turned up for the discussion despite the controversial nature of the proposed law.

 

Bartolo said certain proposals in the document were conveniently not mentioned, such as a three-year budget which would give the University a much-needed breath of fresh air for planning purposes.

The controversial proposal seeks to create a board made up of three to four members appointed by the Prime Minister. The University’s budget, academic plan, and business plan would need to be approved by this board before they can take effect.

The KSU said it will oppose the proposal, which it believes will undermine university autonomy. The student body, together with other organisations has drafted its own proposals that were presented to Bartolo at the event.

"It is believed that the proposal for all members of the governing board to be chosen by the Prime Minister endangers the institutional autonomy of the university. As is mentioned in the document itself, the university as an institution requires autonomy to function effectively," the KSU said.

KSU Education Coordinator Gillian Asciak said the board should take a consultative role rather than a governing role.

What the KSU is saying
  • Rather than limit terms served by deans to two terms, proposal to place a review process to monitor the work every term
  • Clarification of the proposal for the appointment of an appeals board 
  • The inclusion of the Students Charter in the UOM Act
  • Student representation in different levels of decision-making at the University
  • Push for concrete proposals and a detailed plan related to work-based learning 
  • Accreditation for student activism
  • Assuring competence of teaching staff by requiring part-time and casual lecturers to attend a seminar or workshop
  • Promotion of anonymity of student feedback exercises


But Bartolo insisted that for the first time, the university will be given the ability to take out loans and raise finances, subject to the approval of the ministry of finance and Parliament. "We want the university to have the necessary space when it comes to public procurement so that it can carry on with more autonomy than it has ever had in its history. In order to do this, we must set up a board of internal audit to make sure that public money is spent well."

Bartolo shunned criticism he wanted to stifle the institution's independence. "Even when it comes to primary schools and secondary schools, we would like the heads of schools to be more involved and to be autonomous in the way they run their schools. I will be the last person to suggest that we reverse this when it comes to university."

He said government had no intention of creating a control-and-command structure that took away from the university's responsibility to run itself.

Addressing students, Bartolo said the government proposal was still a consultation paper, which meant that it had to be worked upon.

He said the experience of the last four-and-a-half years showed the government's commitment to strengthen the university as a reality in its own right.

"There is no intention – and I want to make this very clear – of crushing the university with some kind of heavy hand that comes from the outside," he said.

“I think that actions speak louder than words and in the past four and a half years, the budget of the university – excluding stipends – has increased from €54 million to €76 million a year. If you don’t have a budget, you cannot operate and you cannot function,” he added.

Another meeting with academics is set for 24 November at noon.

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Tia Reljic joined MaltaToday in 2017