The first ever debate organised by the University of Malta Debating Union (MUDU) saw a fruitful discussion answering the debate question: ‘Does the University of Malta live up to your expectations?’ The debate moderated by Josette Cutajar brought together 3 students (Naomi Bugre, Becky Micallef and Alexander Clayman) and 3 lecturers (Professor Godfrey Baldacchino, Dr Anna Borg and Professor Dominic Fenech) at the quadrangle in order to discuss how the university might not always meet the expectations of students. The university Rector, Professor Alfred J Vella was present and led the opening speech of the event. The Rector explained how the University fully supports MUDU: “we wanted to help KSU set up this debating union in order to create a space where people talk and agree and disagree about something and do it in an elegant manner whilst being trained in public speaking.”
Amongst the many facets that were mentioned during the debate, something that to me appeared as one of the most disturbing comments in the event was brought up by student Alexander Clayman. The student recounted a conversation he had with the current Education Minister on the state of University. The Minister described students as migratory birds, and due to this fact, they have no right in telling an institution how to run. Such an attitude of course is one of the main reasons students feel that no matter how hard they attempt to find ways through which they can communicate with the university staff and academics in order to improve the university experience as a whole, they will most of the time find someone who is reluctant to listen.
This was one of the most prevalent points discussed during the length of the debate. All three students on the panel as well as floor interventions felt the need to point it out. In fact, even the roles of student representatives in many faculties remain empty. Students feel that these roles are there so that a direct link with the students of the same faculty could be kept and improvements to the course and university life could be implemented, but at the end of the day they are still not listened to. Clayman, currently a student representative explained how in his role, many times he feels like he is being ignored. However, previous KSU President Rebecca Micallef pointed out that education coordinators, student representatives and KSU are always there to bridge the gap. “I think that students have their own perception that if they seek help they won’t get it,” she goes on.
To this, current pro rector Professor Godfrey Baldacchino expressed his concern: “It concerns me that students feel that it’s not a transparent institution and that we don’t provide enough avenues for the participation of students. We have mechanisms that try to encourage student feedback but I am aware that they can be improved.” This point brought out the reality that the feedback system is a misunderstood one. The debate went on to highlight the fact that students should make use of this system which is strictly confidential and completely anonymous.
Another point that was highlighted in the debate was the English Proficiency courses that have started at university. Professor Dominic Fenech showed disappointment in the reaction of students on campus. “For the first time, university is giving the opportunity for students to improve their english proficiency skills, but what do we get from this? For students who have been called up to take these free courses, the main preoccupation is how to get out of this and not that it is a god sent.”
While many believe that the university lacks forms of encouragement for students to think on their own, the credibility of the education system in primary and secondary schools was questioned. In fact it was seen as something that eventually hinders the critical thinking capabilities of students who progress towards tertiary education. Naomi Bugre expressed how a lot of students feel like they don’t have to go that extra mile and participate in events on campus and in student organisations. Partially because ever since we start going to school we are taught to listen and prepare for the final exams, thus at times becoming our only goal. Bugre encouraged students who have a strong character and a passion towards being active to not suppress it.
All in all, the debate ended with both teams somewhat in agreement that the university needs to always aim higher and better whilst finding structures that will enrich the student-university relationship.
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Nicole Borg is a currently a 4th year student studying Communications and Theatre Studies. She joined Insite as a writer and editor in 2014/2015. Following she progressed to join the media team as Publications Officer in 2015/16. Currently she is the Executive Editor of Insite Malta for the term of 2016/17.