Education for the real world

‘In the past, the appointment of a University rector was like a palace coup d’etat.’

In the last budget of the previous administration, in 2012, the budget for the university was reduced by two million euros. At the time, the ministry stated that this budget was being slashed due to the economic crisis of the previous four years. On taking office in March 2013, one of the first real problems I faced was the shortfall of €4 million in the University budget; there were not enough funds to pay wages and salaries.

Three years down the line, we are proud to announce that the contribution towards the University of Malta rose from the €66 million allocated in 2013, to €90 million for next year. To these figures one could add the increased stipends, bringing the total amount being spent on University students in excess of €100 million; this for the first time ever. Furthermore, the University will be in a position to continue with planned capital projects and embellishment of the university grounds.

Last year was an important year for the Malta University. After 10 years under the rectorship of Professor Juanito Camilleri, it was time for the University of Malta to have a new Rector. I wish to thank Professor Camilleri for his sterling work in the past decade, thanks to whom we now have a more modern and cosmopolitan university.

In the past, the appointment of a University rector was like a palace coup d’etat. The government of the time used to take a unilateral decision and the next morning the University would have a new rector. We believed that there was a better process. Together with the Prime Minister we met the University staff, on more than one occasion. We had an open discussion and we listened to their concerns and aspirations in a very calm and serene manner.

Professor Alfred Vella, the new rector, can continue where Professor Juanito Camilleri left off but he will also implement new ideas and his vision for the future. Together with Professor Vella, we are working on a long-term plan to ensure that the University of Malta will no longer have to be dependent on the government of the day, by putting in place new structures that will guarantee the autonomy of the University.

In our electoral manifesto we planned and pledged to undertake infrastructural projects for the embellishment and improvement of both the University of Malta and the Junior College. This we have done and works on new halls and laboratories at the Junior College and the refurbishment of classrooms and halls at the UoM amounted to more than €2.5 million.

A further €1.5 million was invested in the improvement of the theatre at the Valletta Campus, which will be completed by the beginning of next year. Projects on engineering and the ‘Postdoc’ building are underway. These projects, at a cost of around €6 million each, will provide new facilities and create more space. Extensions to the Biomedical building were completed and inaugurated this year.

In 2017 work in the various areas will be ongoing and we are preparing the groundwork to achieve our aims. Currently the University is working on applications for funds for new research projects which will be financed through European funds and other sources to continue the work on this important aspect. At the same time, together with the University, the government is considering the possibility of the setting up of new centres, similar to the one in Cottonera, to provide new courses in areas that society needs. The Board of the Gozo Campus will now include people who can help the University identify better outreach services and assistance to Gozitan students, to mitigate insularity problems.

The University of Malta will continue working on the implementation of the master plan for infrastructural projects. The project for the upgrading of sports facilities is planned to start soon. This will include the football pitch, the athletics track and facilities for various other sports. The first phase of this project is estimated to cost €4 million. At the same time the University is drawing up a strategy to promote Sports among students and to encourage the setting up of student sports associations in various disciplines.

While developing the physical infrastructure of the university we still need to make it more accessible for disabled students, not in terms of lifts and ramps, but to be accepted to study at the university through new entry arrangements.

We also need to get more of the university to engage with society and with the world of employment. More students tell me that they would like workplace exposure while studying, to be able to develop the necessary skills and attitudes that will make them effective in the real world once they graduate.

Evarist Bartolo is Minister of Education and Employment

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