The Social Policy Commission (KPS) at the University of Malta allows students to debate social issues. While it has so far only been accessible to those students who form part of a student organization, plans are in the works to open it up to all University students. Andrea Gonzi asked KPS Commissioner Becky Micallef and KPS Coordinator Andrew Muscat for details about this revamp.
Andrea: Let’s start with a rather pointed question. Is KPS dying?
Andrew: When I was contesting for the (KSU) elections, I had a couple of weeks to study the exact role of KPS and how it is implemented in reality. What I found out was that participation was at a minimum. So I came up with a soluton to make KPS more effective by extending its reach to students who are not members of student organisations.
Becky: In practice it looked like it was dying, maybe because the topics that were discussed weren’t very relevant to students. The structure needed a change. Basically what we’re going to do this year, apart from making KPS more open, is find topics that touch upon students’ lives, topics that students will be interested in discussing. The seven different themes that will be discussed this year will be health and well-being, Green Campus, the gender identity bill, drug decriminalization, the right to privacy in light of Snowden’s revelations, transport and parking, and irregular immigration. We’re also giving student organisations and students alike the opportunity to tell us ‘listen, we want to discuss this issue because we think it’s important’. If we feel that it really reflects the student interest, we will set up an ad hoc committee and start discussing it right away.
Andrea: Can you explain what the changes themselves will actually entail?
Andrew: I make a distinction between the substantive part of KPS, which is the policies per se, and the procedural part. While I find the substantive part quite reassuring, I feel that the procedural part is lacking. So I’m focusing more on the procedure; on the way we should tackle things, on the way we should discuss, on the way we should issue press releases, on the procedure of ad hoc committees, etc.. etc.. We’re trying to hit the ground running by implementing a procedure that would make things run more smoothly.
Andrea: Let’s take the example used by last year’s KSU executive where press releases were discussed. Do you think that this ‘unstructured’ debate was due to a lack of procedure?
Andrew: I believe so. I don’t think that it was ineffective but we can do better by anticipating social issues. For example, I am informed that the gender identity bill will only come out next spring. So we’re quite early in choosing it as a topic for discussion. We have a year to plan out strategically; we can talk to experts, we can study comparatively. Therefore, as students, we will be prepared. That’s where I think that procedure is extremely important.
Andrea: Why is there such a focus on these subcommittees and how will this work out procedurally?
Andrew: I don’t want it to be highly-bureaucratic or technical. These ad hoc committees and subcommittees will form part of the KPS structure. KPS will direct these subcommittees with the only difference that students from outside organisations can take part.
During election week I had formed a chart. The committees will serve as a guideline. Why? Because we need a more specific committee. For example, if we are talking about a medical issue, I expect medical students to be present. The committees will guide KPS.
Andrea: Do you feel that this type of arrangement opens up KSU’s door to the involvement of more students when compared to the previous systems?
Andrew: I hope so. That’s our aim.
Andrea: Becky, you had already put forward a few points and suggestions during the run up to your election. Can you outline the changes that you yourself are proposing?
Becky: Basically, the changes I had proposed back then were in line with what Andrew had proposed in SDM’s manifesto. The ad hoc committees that I suggested were just ideas of potential topics for discussion. I had researched some topics that I thought are of interest to students, and indeed some of them will be discussed by KPS this year. Also, what I had in mind was for the ad hoc committees to not only focus on writing reports but also on organisating activities or events that could attract an audience.
Andrea: The KSU executive of two years ago had tried to introduce a public dialogue which proved to be quite unsuccessful. Can you outline how your approach will succeed where theirs failed?
Becky: I think that the ad-hoc committees will make a big difference because it will not simply be about KSU reaching to the public. Rather, KSU will have ad hoc committees supported by KPS, which will in turn be supported by student organisations who can branch out to the general public.
Andrea: The main issue I’ve always seen with branching out KPS towards the ‘common students’ is that their focus is only on policy. Don’t you think that tackling educational issues would interest the student more?
Becky: Such topics fall in the competence of the Education Office of KSU and that is why they haven’t been discussed in KPS. However, with the recent issue regarding the trade dispute between UMASA and the University of Malta, we did hold a joint meeting with the Education Commission (KE) and KPS members. KPS didn’t take a vote on it though, as it fell under the role of KE.
Andrea: Since you are trying to change things, wouldn’t it be innovative of you to open KPS up to elements pertaining to education?
Andrew: It could definitely be an option and I think it could work, but we need to be cautious. There’s a fine line between what KPS stands for and what the commission for education stands for. I do think it’s an option though and I’m not disregarding it.
Becky: KPS involves all student organisations because they deserve such importance. Since the education office does not involve student organisations directly but rather student representatives, it could be an option.
Andrea: During Becky’s nomination speech, Pulse’s Joseph Masini asked whether the ad hoc committees will remove the powers of KPS? What would your reply be to that now?
Becky: I disagree. What the ad hoc committees discuss still have to go through KPS.
Andrew: It’s like a parliamentary committee. You have the institution but then you have the technical people that research and do the anaylatical work. We usually only had monthly KPS meetings in the past. This is not enough if KPS wants to be effective.
Andrea: After these changes are implemented, what’s next on the agenda?
Andrew: Obviously, we’ve already planned a timeline for the year. There’s the careers convention that I think we can really improve this year. We’re also thinking of taking all organisations to Junior College to bridge the gap between 6th forms and University.
We’re trying to utilise media as much as possible to take KPS to a higher level. I plan to take KPS to a national level as well as a University one. I want our issues, our concerns, our proposals, our enthusiam, and our energy reflected on a national level. This is where prominent people can come on board and give us a hand. It would be revolutionary for KPS.