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Democratic governance model

The initial restructuring plans for improving the governance of the University met with severe resistance from both students and the academic staff. It seems the government has now realised that what the University needs is not only more financial accountability but also a more democratic system of governance.

The Ministry of Education’s legal advisers, Simon Cachia and Dennis Zammit, have announced some significant changes to the original proposals.

It had originally been proposed that a new governing board would have practically had the last word on what the University could do. This idea has now been scrapped. This is undoubtedly a welcome improvement that makes the governance of the University less political and more democratic while preserving autonomy. The draft University law makes it clear that the University council will remain the ultimate ruling body.

Another positive move in the proposed legislation is that the Prime Minister’s appointees to the council will be reduced from the present 14 to seven. The Prime Minister will also appoint the chairman of the council while the Education Ministry will have the right to select one representative.

Thus, the government representatives on the council will be in the minority while the rest of the representatives will include the rector, four academic staff, four students, four non-academic staff, four Senate representatives, a member appointed by the Malta Council for Science and Technology and one representative from the Faculty of Theology.

The proposed set-up of the council includes most of the stakeholders of the University. As such, it is more autonomous from government control as are most universities in the western democracies.

Another significant change that is being proposed relates to the election of the rector. The council will not be responsible for electing the rector, who will be chosen by a varied electoral college that will comprise 10 academics, four of whom must be members of the council, 10 administrative staff, 10 students and seven council members appointed by the Prime Minister and a member selected by the National Skills Council.

While the government will no longer have a natural majority, the voting system used will be that of a single transferable vote and the rector needs to get an absolute majority to be elected.

More positive proposed changes in the new University Act include the setting up of an executive committee to take care of the day-to-day running of the University. This change should help in the effective implementation of decisions made by the council. The formation of an advisory committee to propose financial and strategic plans for the University should help the governance of this institution that is still financed by public funds. While this advisory committee will have no executive powers as all plans need to be approved by the council, it should ensure that all expenditure plans are well costed and owned by the council.

On the academic side, the number of students sitting on the senate will be doubled from five to 10. This should help give students a stronger voice on academic matters. They will also be involved in the election of the faculty deans.

The draft University Act appears to be an improvement on the previous draft. It should contribute in no small way to improve the governance of this critically-important institution.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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