Following the Consultation Paper issued by the Ministry for Education and Employment in April, the Malta Union of Teachers is issuing its initial reactions. More detailed feedback will be provided to the Ministry during meetings already in the pipeline.
First of all, the issue of a consultation paper on the University of Malta satisfies the MUT’s appeals for specific legislation regulating and supporting this institution. The Union welcomes the wide consultation process carried out by the Ministry and is looking forward to the inclusion of these proposals in the final version of the document. The MUT also welcomes the proposed improved funding systems to sustain the operation of the institution in the long term, along with improved internal and external quality assurance mechanisms provided that they respect and do not restrict academic freedom and institutional autonomy.
On the other hand, the Union notes that the establishment of a new Governing structure raises a number of issues. The fact that the function of the institution may be decided by a non-academic board might lead to the institution becoming another department within the Ministry for Education with academic priorities side-lined and with the University subdued to the Ministry’s board decision. Also, academic staff may be reduced to functionaries who cannot take professional initiative, and with academic leaders just figureheads. If this happens the autonomy of the institution would be reduced drastically. The European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), for example, last month expressed its concern about efforts within Higher Education that may lead to Universities becoming reduced to preparing students only for the short-term needs of the labour market at the expense of the quality of education overall. This could be one possible outcome of such a Governing structure. The ETUCE insists, and the MUT agrees, that the mission of universities and other higher education institutions in Europe is much broader than only providing knowledge to the business sector. Democratic societies need free and independent higher education and research institutions that encourage independent and creative thinking.
In a comment, the MUT President Marco Bonnici stated that “we have already commented on the deplorable revisions made to the laws governing the Institute for Education, which eliminated the institute’s independence so that the Ministry can now appoint directly its own people to the board. Seen in this context, one would be justified to be concerned about what seems like a very worrying drive to centralise autonomous institutions.”
The MUT also notes that the Consultation Paper has a number of ad hoc stand-alone proposals on which the Union has serious doubts about whether they will lead to improved academic freedom, improved quality of service, transparency in recruitment of full-time and part-time academics, mechanisms of redress in tackling injustices in selection and appointment processes or effective appeals structures. The MUT urges the Government to study more the implications of the said proposals in order to address how these proposals would work in practice.
In conclusion, the MUT notes with disappointment that there is no reference to the Junior College apart from a reference at the end of the document stating that the Junior College structure is to be retained. The new law should emphasise the role of the Junior College as a pre-tertiary institution and as an academic institution of excellence, rather than just merely as a post-secondary institution. The MUT also suggests changes in the governing structures of the College, such that its status would be considered institutionally and administratively as the equivalent of a University Faculty. This would imply that the Principal would be the equivalent of a Faculty Dean with status and membership to all bodies as all other University Faculty Deans.