Thank you, Juanito

We worked very well together for the last three years to improve the education system as a whole by recognising vocational subjects as entry requisites and by widening the MATSEC board to MCAST and ITS

Juanito Camilleri has served as the University's rector for the last ten years, before handing the torch to Alfred Vella last Friday
Juanito Camilleri has served as the University's rector for the last ten years, before handing the torch to Alfred Vella last Friday

One of the best ways to say thank you to Prof Juanito Camilleri for serving so admirably as rector of the University of Malta for the past 10 years was to make some of his dreams for the university come true before his term was up. We worked very well together for the last three years to improve the education system as a whole by recognising vocational subjects as entry requisites for university and by widening the MATSEC board to MCAST and ITS to provide more diversity and flexibility in our secondary schools. We also worked hard together to improve the facilities and infrastructure at the University of Malta and Junior College.

This week we inaugurated together the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Biobanking. We launched the university residence project and also signed an agreement laying the way forward to ensure that finally the campus of the university in Valletta becomes the property of the University of Malta.

The University of Malta together with the ministry has invested around 6.5 million euros to bring the Molecular Medicine and Biobanking Centre into fruition.

The centre is being inaugurated at a critical time in the socio-economic development of Malta. Advanced education and training create workplaces with much higher value added. Mater Dei Hospital and the Life Sciences Park across the road from the university should complement each other in the further development of Life Science Research and Medical Biotechnology. It is anticipated that some of the fruits of the centre may be translated into new business development by indigenous Maltese companies that may be located in the Life Sciences Park.

Research on Human Genomics and Genetics Medicine has been conducted at the university for many years, but more so in the last 30. It has resulted in a number of Master, Ph.D. and postdoctoral students taking up the mantle in this field. As the research programmes grew, the need for this centre became more acute. At this new centre, some 25 brand new state of the art laboratories will come into operation to house these researchers. Hence for the very first time, the university will have in place the critical mass to enhance new advances in this specific area of health that is moving more and more up a path towards what is becoming known as personalised or precision medicine, i.e. “your own treatment for your own disease”.

The researchers in this case try to understand the role of particular molecules that form part of the intricate pathways within the body that give rise, for example, to the formation of new cells and in turn the death of cells at the appropriate time. Errors give rise to congenital disorders or even cancer, as well as some rare diseases. These molecules in turn are synthesised by our cells in which the blueprint is held in our DNA.

The Human Genome encodes around 30,000 genes and the code per se is written in three billion letters. Sequencing the genome, and more to the point the Maltese genome, has been accomplished by university researchers that form a core part of the centre. In the meantime, UoM researchers established the Malta Biobank that provided the essential samples under high quality standards through its membership in EuroBioBank and the BioBanking and BioMolecular Resources Research Infrastructure of the European Commission, in which the government of Malta is represented. Consequently, it is now possible to study the role of particular genes and their resultant molecules, both in health and disease, for the discovery of new personalised medicines.

Valletta and Tal-Qroqq exchange

Since 1993, when the national pool complex was built for the Small Nations Games on land owned by the University of Malta, ownership was always an issue. This complex was always used by the Kunsill Malti ghall-Isport for various sports organisations and no compensation was ever given to the university for this. The sports complex, including the national pool, is presently being used by Sports Malta for the development of sports and training of individual sports.

On the other hand, the Valletta campus of the University of Malta, which has been and is still being used by the University of Malta, has its ownership vested in the government of Malta. Despite the fact that over the past years the university has spent €1,478,000 in infrastructure of the premises, the university does not hold any formal title over these premises.

By virtue of Article 72A of the Education Act, the University of Malta is a body corporate having a distinct legal personality and is capable of entering into contracts, of acquiring, holding and disposing of any kind of property for the purposes of its functions.

The University of Malta carried out its own evaluation of both properties and in view of the fact that the value of both properties is of equal market value, it has recommended a transfer of properties by means of an exchange. An agreement to work on the deed was also signed this week to finally regularize the position of both the University of Malta as well as Sports Malta and opens the way for any possible future development.

A €20m investment for the future

Experts firmly believe that the higher education sector is experiencing a fundamental transformation in terms of its role in society, mode of operation, and economic structure and value. Universities across the globe are a thousand-year-old industry undergoing profound change. The traditional business model needs to be upgraded to meet today’s and tomorrow’s needs.

One of these changes has been announced, also very recently – that of a Brand New Residence and Community Centre for the University of Malta, an investment of over €20m.

The University of Malta concluded an agreement with Vassallo Builders Group Limited, for the construction and operation of a University Residence and Community Complex, following a call for proposals issued last year.

The €20m complex to be built on a site covering 11,000 square metres will be similar to university complexes all over Europe. It will consist of an eight-block student village, offering over 500 beds in different types of accommodation and a number of outlets and facilities all situated around a central plaza. A tree lined boulevard will link the university building to the plaza.

The complex, which will be operated by Campus Residence Malta Limited, a new subsidiary of Vassallo Builders Group, will also house the University of Malta’s child care centre and the university’s language school. Sporting facilities will cover an area of around 1,400 square metres and will include a lap pool, gym and squash court. Other areas will house music practice rooms, study rooms and a multi faith hall. There will also be a commercial entertainment area housing a cinema and food courts. The complex will include an underground car park on three levels will offer over 200 new spaces.

It is scheduled to be operational by September 2018.

Evarist Bartolo is Minister of Education and Employment