More than 2,200 students have signed the petition to urge lecturers and the government to get back to the negotiating table and stop using their education as "a bargaining tool".

Students will be holding a rally on the University campus today to raise awareness about the consequences of the deadlocked discussions on a new collective agreement between the government and the University's academic staff.

Lecturers are asking for a pay rise and threatening to postpone the January examination session either to July or September unless the government gives in to their demands. This would mean University students will either have to sit for their exams of both semesters in one session or that the syllabus of the second semester might not be covered because the timetables will be disrupted.

The rally is being held by the University Students' Council (KSU) and all other active student organisations. But students have been careful not to take any sides on this dispute. This was partly because they were not involved in the negotiations but also because they were putting the blame on both parties which, the students say, have not discussed a way forward in about a month.

A KSU spokesman said the lecturers' action was disproportionate and was only causing problems for students: "They need to come to a conclusion that benefits higher education in Malta and this has to be done as soon as possible."

Lectures have been cancelled for both the University and the Junior College between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. today. The rally will be an informative one, with KSU president Roberta Avellino expected to speak about the need to reach a conclusion as soon as possible.

The KSU was also hoping to get an international student to explain how the issue would affect those on international exchanges because this may lead to complications with flights and accommodation.

Posters were displayed on campus yesterday reminding students to attend the rally and sign the petition. In the afternoon, student organisations' representatives met to design the banners and placards to be used during the activity, which will be held in the Quadrangle. But some students walking in the Quadrangle between lectures yesterday were sceptical about how many would actually turn up.

Maltese students are notorious for being apathetic but those organising today's event were hoping their peers would make their voices heard this time round.

The last time students were in the news was during the March general election campaign when a debate between the four political leaders was held on campus and students packed Sir Temi Zammit Hall to watch, cheer and boo.

Before that, students had protested against the new parking system which restricted the spaces for students and years before they protested when their stipends were cut.

"We hope everyone will come and bring their friends to show their support. That is the only way we will manage to keep on fighting for students' rights," Ms Avellino said.

She said that if no conclusion was reached in time, the students will have to come up with a new way to fight for their rights and no type of action was being ruled out.

cperegin@timesofmalta.com

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