Want to change politics? This course might be for you

Dr Kurt Borg lectures in the University of Malta’s Bachelor of Arts in Politics and Governance, a relatively new full-time course that allows students to study political science

Kurt Borg lectures at the Department of Public Policy at the University of Malta
Kurt Borg lectures at the Department of Public Policy at the University of Malta

We’re used to a certain type of politics. A type of politics that is tribalistic, antagonistic, and dominated by two big parties. But at a time where people are getting tired of the party duopoly, this university course is looking to intervene and show people a different way of doing politics.

“Politics in Malta is still a taboo,” said Dr Kurt Borg, a lecturer at the Department of Public Policy. “If we look around us, political debates are incredibly heated, sometimes unnecessarily so. As a country we haven’t yet figured out how to disagree as citizens, which is a fundamental ingredient of democracy.”

Borg lectures in the University of Malta’s Bachelor of Arts in Politics and Governance, a relatively new full-time course that allows students to study political science. It is the first of its kind to also delve into the peculiarities of local politics, departing from other ‘political’ courses offered by the University, particularly International Relations and European Studies, that focus on the external dimensions of politics.

But this course is being offered within a cultural context of heated politics, a duopoly split across party lines. Borg acknowledged that the department is intervening in this context that dissuades a lot of people, particularly younger people, from participating in local politics.

“All around the world, politics as an academic discipline is well-established. There’s nothing strange we’re doing in that regard – we’re just building on this idea. One aim of this course is to analyse the current cultural milieu in which politics is happening to understand some of the quirky, more peculiar features of our political climate. We want to analyse that and intervene in that, but also break a bit that mold and contribute to a discourse and generation where politics in Malta can be something else,” he said.

But politics has played a significant role in Malta’s history and is deeply embedded in the social fabric. Yet, it has taken years for the University of Malta, or any educational institution, to introduce a political science course that looks to analyse the local context.

Borg said there are multiple factors that have contributed to this. Some of these are institutional, with the university struggling to find the right space or place where to situate a politics department.

“Nonetheless, there are various courses apart from ours that deal with political issues,” he said. “There is some deal of continuity with what is being offered, but unlike the others it doesn’t just focus on the European dimension or the international relations dimension, even though it touches upon them as well as the local political context is not divorced from European and international realities."

This is a course that first existed as a diploma, and then developed into a part-time course. However, the department decided to change the structure in line with their idea of who they wanted to attract to the course, particularly younger people.

Young people don’t care about politics, right?

Borg doesn’t completely buy the argument that young people don’t care or are passive about politics. And even if they are passive and alienated by the current system, it doesn’t mean they don’t care about politics entirely.

“Just because people are not interested in the two main political parties, it doesn’t mean they don’t have other political thoughts. And I think this is an interesting moment in Maltese political history where we are starting to see a space where young people particularly are disgruntled with the major political parties.”

Borg said this space of apathy might be filled in or triggered by community spaces, with the recent emergence of residents groups an increasingly vibrant space outside of party politics.

“That’s a space where young people could become politicised in a good way, and recognize how policy matters to them, and what they can do as citizens to bring about change. That feeling of being successful in a project of resistance might invigorate you further. It can be addictive in a good sense, and it can make you see that politics is for you, irrespective of political parties.”

For Borg, one issue is that political activity is still thought of as something within the remit of political parties alone or established NGOs. “It’s as if there’s this polarization – you either work through political parties or work through grassroots organisations, say, Moviment Graffitti or Friends of the Earth. Those parts are true, but there’s a great terrain between them where people can be politically active.”

Podcasts and media as a political space

Indeed, an increasingly popular space that can help with political engagement is in podcasts or video essays. “Those could be activities that young people are involved in because they could translate the details of politics,” he said.

“Many media organisations are doing this through shorter, punchier explainer videos that are slightly more accessible. Those are crucial, and that’s a space where young people can be more involved because they know more about which channels work, which media work, they know how to use TikTok and other media to this effect. That’s a space where young people can become more socially active.”

Specifically, within campus grounds, the Quadrangle could also serve as a political space. “I worry when, in most times of the academic year, the Quadrangle – which is the main space where people can meet – is taken over, and some students say hijacked, by commercial interests,” he said.

Here, Borg insisted on student organisations looking out for funding opportunities so as not to be completely reliant on certain commercial organisations for their existence. “Obviously KSU needs its funding and sponsorships, but all student organisations should look into sources of funding that would not restrict or curtail their activities.”

“Quad should be a space where much more activities happen in public,” he continued. “The university, its architecture and infrastructure, are not conducive to creating these spaces of encounter and debate. It seems we’re not creating the vibe where students can feel more engaged and rooted in communities.”


But job prospects in politics are weak, no?

Borg also insisted that career opportunities from this politics degree are multiple. Many institutions are putting an emphasis on research in politics – even MPs might need research assistants – so that can be one avenue for people enrolled in this course.

“Beyond that, some people who graduate in public policy or politics find themselves working in various entities in the public sector, or even as journalists, so it opens up a number of outlets. People are involved in trade unions, drafting public policies. You can work in public management or project management within the public sector. And that’s just the local dimension; a degree in Politics and Governance also opens up ample job opportunities in the European context”

“My wish for this course is to make people realise that politics is not necessarily what they see in the news, that overly antagonistic kind of activity. Politics can mean something else; something that touches and impacts people's lives” he said.

There are also ample ways people can be politically active beyond participating in political parties. This can be through civil society, the media and other policy fora.

“We really want these different profiles of people, and even different temperaments. Not everyone approaches politics in the same way. Some prefer the grassroots dimension and can find themselves in this course. Others might have aspirations to get into local councils and contest elections – this course could be helpful for them. We want to create an interest in politics and to enable young people to find their way to become politically engaged.”


Why do we need to study politics?

The MEP and local council elections campaign was dominated by the Vitals corruption scandal. However, Borg said when certain scandals reach this level, it requires a certain degree of knowledge on institutions and political knowledge to even understand what is going on.

“Sometimes young people don’t know where to start from or will read certain quick headlines here and there without really understanding knowledge of process, procedure, implications or values that have to do with what is expected in a democratic society. There are all things that are part of a civic and political education,” he said.

And ultimately, the point of this undergraduate course is not to discuss what the Labour Party or Nationalist Party is doing. “This is an academic discipline primarily which of course analyses what’s going on around us – that’s one of the functions of education,” Borg said.

“If education does not equip you with the critical skills with which to navigate the complex world we’re living in, the complex mediascape we’re interacting with, and the broader international and European dimension, then that's not good education. This course is really that, and it should appeal to people interested in political thoughts and ideas, theories in political philosophy, grassroots organising as well as institutional politics.”

“We firmly believe that this course is also creating a classroom as a community of sorts, where people can bounce off ideas and disagree. We don’t believe in a top-down pedagogy, we’re not here to preach to students. We’re here to equip young people with much-needed critical skills to build together a better and sustainable future.”