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Question time: Voices from the campus

What needs to be done to have university students rekindle interest in elections for their representatives on campus?

Glenn Micallef, Vice President, Labour Youth Forum (FŻL)

Very recently, Kevin Aquilina, dean of the Faculty of Laws, wrote that elections for student representatives on campus are a sham. His words rekindled memories of my days as a student when I strongly lobbied for a change in the electoral system.

Leaving the electoral system aside for a moment, I believe the issue is much more deeply rooted than that. The majority of students are generally neither encouraged nor interested in participating in student organisations, be they political or otherwise. The fact that practically all students drive or can be at home (or at work) within 20 minutes from the end of their lecture does not help either because students would rather spend time elsewhere than on campus.

In my days, participation in student organisations was also seen as a waste of time by both lecturers and students, most of whom preferred to focus on the academic side of university life.

However, despite all obstacles, there are a number of students who still see scope in participating. They invest their time in the various organisations on campus and seek to gather skills from experiences therein, which they cannot get from books or lectures. This number is still very low, especially when compared to other universities abroad. Furthermore, the most deep-rooted problem lies in a student body alienated by trivial matters, which, many times, miss the point of what student activism should be about.

To me, there is no greater evidence of this alienation than the voice the student body has on various issues on a national level.

Despite all obstacles, there are a number of students who still see scope in participating

To my mind, this is a missed opportunity for student councils, which should be pushing for innovative policies on all fronts and speaking about ideas for this country’s economic development and well-being, with views on societal issues and opinions on the political sphere.

Yet, to the contrary, the University Students’ Council (KSU) and the majority of the student organisations have often shied away from this role, many times arguing that policy decisions are taken at KPS (an acronym for Kummissjoni Politika Soċjali – social policy commission) and that they need to be impartial.

I disagree because I think that students ought to be speaking about the country’s economic performance, about pensions and employment. They need to be innovative and push forward ideas related to transport, urban planning and the environment. They should be able to do this through their student council.

An apathetic attitude will very quickly develop with regard to the role of the council and, in turn, the elections that bring it about because students will start to feel that either the council is not functioning efficiently or to fulfil its purpose or that the elected representatives are not being representative of all students.

The reality, however, is that the bipartisan political landscape in Malta has rendered the students’ representative body rather ineffective.

There is also the voting system through which the students’ representative body is elected – a flawed system that favours two organisations at Junior College and one at the University. It is a system that annually draws criticism but which has been vehemently defended by those who are comfortable with the status quo.

This situation ultimately puts students from a different political background at a natural disadvantage.

It is a pity because, had there been a more effective student representative body, this could have the potential to be a vehicle for social change in Malta by moving away from the usual petty issues and being a real voice for students and their welfare on a national scale.

Ian Zahra, Fourth-year Law student

Over the past 30 years, the University of Malta has seen radical changes taking place on campus, both in terms of the institution’s physical nature and also with regard to its policies in education, earning its place as the highest educational institution on the island. This achievement is, undoubtedly, the result of the commitment of both academics and students who worked together to make sure the University constantly strives to achieve better results and increase its professionalism.

One of the factors attributed to the University of Malta’s success is, no doubt, student activism and the various forms in which students play their part to make the University community a role model for our society. The population at the University of Malta today includes students who are of different ages, race, gender, nationality and religion and student activism is seen as a celebration of this diversity and the drive to unite all students.

The University Students’ Council (KSU) plays a vital role in enhancing student activism at the University and numerous student councils have represented the students’ best interests on a number of issues, namely the inconsiderate choice of this year’s general election date, the infamous Media and Defamation Bill, this government’s reluctance to increase spending in research and development and the controversial proposal to charge students for organising events on our own campus.

Online elections are not only increasingly efficient but they also provide for better accessibility in an ever-connected society

The KSU’s unique structure allows it to achieve a balance between both efficiency and representation due to its mix of executive positions and commission representatives. This structure includes 11 elected executive posts, along with an educational commissioner representing over 50 student representatives on behalf of all faculties, institutes and centres at the University and also a social policy commissioner who represents over 50 student organisations on campus.

To directly tackle the pertinent question addressing this issue, we need to ask ourselves a simple question: where do we see our democracy and society moving toward in the next 50 years?

I firmly believe that even though student elections and nation-wide elections are two separate issues, as students it is our duty to work towards shaping our nation’s future. Without doubt, the next step forward in this regard is for authorities to take e-democracy much more seriously.

Taking Estonia as a model, that country adopted online elections in 2005 and claimed its placeas the first country to hold general elections over the internet.

Elections at the University can serve as a model for nationwide elections and bring out the vote. Online elections are not only increasingly efficient but they also provide for better accessibility in an ever-connected society.

With a population of below half a million, it is unexplainable how, in 2017, eligible Maltese voters living abroad have to catch a flight back to Malta to cast their vote and, after all, fulfil their duty of participating in a democracy.

As students attending the highest educational institution in Malta, it should be our goal to showcase our capability of changing our systems to provide more open and modern democratic structures.

If you would like to put any questions to the two parties in Parliament send an e-mail marked clearly Question Time to [email protected].

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