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Campaign financing: how to spend it like SDM and Pulse

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With the  hectic carnival like nature of quad during KSU elections many have wondered where both political organisations get their money from and how they use it.  Andrea Gonzi and Michelle Grech sift through Pulse and SDM’s financial records to show how an election campaign on quad can make you € 4,000 poorer.

Asking for Pulse and SDM’s bill for the KSU elections hasn’t always been a straightforward affair and it comes as a great surprise to not only be given an account of how much money was actually spent during the election week itself, but also be given a half yearly financial report by both parties. This gives the electorate a rare opportunity to see what goes behind the scenes in quad’s busiest time of the year.

At first glance it is crucial to point out that both reports are not audited therefore making it impossible to verify how accurate or factual the figures given actually are. Secondly, the half yearly report given to insiteronline by SDM does not contain a breakdown of expenses or income making it harder to form concrete conclusions however Insiteronline was allowed to glimpse the report during a meeting in person with SDM. Secondly, all of Pulse’s reports are significantly more detailed than SDM’s reports with their election breakdown being sent 3 days earlier than SDM’s.

With total half yearly revenues numbering to a princely *€20,586 and €11,493 for SDM and Pulse respectively, it serves as a testament of these two political organisations’ dominance over the political scene at Junior College and the University of Malta especially since the major source of income for both organisations being from activities and seminars. Pulse have made a revenue of  €9579.25 (83%) from the aforementioned alone. Sources of revenue such as sponsorship and advertising, a crucial source of income for many student organisatons, aren’t even given a mention within both financial reports.

Both organisations have spent roughly the same amount of money during the 2014 KSU election week totaling to *€4,000 and €3,662 for Pulse and SDM respectively. The biggest expenditure for both organisations being the set up of their stands at €1,250 (with another €575 to run the stand) and €2,112 respectively – making Pulse’s stand significantly cheaper than SDM’s.

On the otherhand Pulse have invested a lot of their money on printing material and social media totaling to €1,325 as compared to SDM’s expense of €550 on printing. Pulse have also raked up a higher bill when it comes to freebies and food totaling to €775 against SDM’s given figure of €550. Interestingly both organisations have spent exactly the same amount (€450) on T-shirts during this elections campaign.

* Pulse’s half yearly report dates from May 2013 to January 2014 whilst SDM’s dates to January 2014-April 2014

*Both organisations are also donated a lot of items to be given out or used during the election campaign

Posted in Features

KSU 2013/2014 Year In Review: The Good, The New and The Expensive

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With a total expenditure bill totalling to 238,070 and a total of 131 fulfilled initiatives, KSU has never been busier and more expensive to run. Andrea Gonzi looks at the way those funds were utilised and to what extent they innovated upon last year’s KSU executive. 

Culture and Entertainment:

With roughly 27% of the total initiatives being done by the culture and entertainment office and a total expenditure amounting to 46% ( 110,302) of KSU’s total expenditure, this year’s KSU has followed the trend set by previous administrations by focusing on this particular area.

The setting up of 3 bodies composed of student organisations and students alike (the Culture Committee, the Organisations Forum and the Events Team) lead the spearhead in a major reform in the way the Culture and Entertainment office operates by making it more accessible.

An unprecedented collaboration with KSJC was in order, probably due in no small part to being elected on the same party ticket, in the form of the KSJC Summer Bash and other minor JC related events.

Probably owing to the close relationship formed by the organisations’ forum, a collaboration between KSU and several student organisations gave birth to an initiative which encouraged students to watch several matches of the Maltese national teams in football and rugby.  Another sports themed initiative worthy of mention was the formation of a University Futsal Team.

The highlight of this year’s culture and entertainment office was the collaboration on the ‘Christmas on Campus’ initiative which resulted in 29 student organisations collaborating with KSU to gather a total of 12,000 for charity.

The poster that was circulated to promote the success of the Christmas on Campus initiative

The poster that was circulated to promote the success of the Christmas on Campus initiative

KSU has also participated in initiatives relating to the art and culture mainly collaborating with ‘V18′, meeting up with the Secretary for Culture, cultural internships, the KSU Art in Action Gallery Space and the ‘One-Time Art & Design Workshops’ all striving to promote the arts on campus.

International, Social Policy and Education offices:

Thomas Naudi presenting the final report for the International Office

Thomas Naudi presenting the final report for the International Office

 

Whilst being the largest and presumably the most active offices, the International, Social policy and Education offices had the least impact on expenditure totalling to 6.6% (15,784) – a reduction of 23% (4,590) from last year’s KSU executive.

Education, being the focal point of KSU, is only attributed 18 out of the 131 initiatives in the  magazine’ and carries only 0.4% (€ 847) of the total expenditure.  The legel studies controversy could be considered the first foray for the education commissioners with the education commission’s inability to present a common position until the issue died down upon the subject’s complete removal.

During the month of September KSU also embarked on a ‘Revision of Paper Refund’ and an Education Officers Meeting intiative. Other noteworthy pre- christmas projects range from the ‘Feedback Survey on earlier library opening hours’ resulting in the extension of the opening times of the library from 9am to 8.30am.

Due to the impending expiration of the collective agreement, KSU were strongly advocating the formal recognition of its student charter and a reduction in the deadline to mid- March.

With a doubled expenditure vis-a-vis last year, regular practice was maintained by the international office with activities that sought to integrate foreign students such as ‘Orientation Days for International Students’ and a new innovation in the form of the ‘International Students’ Handbook’ which was handed free of charge to international students.

KSU also coordinated student exchanges in conjunction with student organisation TDM2000. The informal ‘Spotlight on Your MEP Candidate’ reception was also organised allowing students to mingle with several MEP candidates.

Considering that the social policy office ended with a reduction in expenditure of 76% (8441) it boldly tried to veer off established convention by organising the ‘Debate Society League’ and the KSU ‘Health Days’. A debate focusing on spring hunting was also organised and a first ever AED defibrilator was introduced on campus.

In term of KPS the social policy office formed 3 working groups, released 2 reports and issued 3 statements. The lack of work done in terms of KPS when compared to previous years may reflect its pervieced decline. However according to KSU President Thomas Bugeja, there has been a record attendance for KPS meetings and KPS/KE seminars.

Administration:

Thomas Bugeja presenting the President's Annual Report

Thomas Bugeja presenting the President’s Annual Report

This year’s administration was locked in a tricky position owing to last year’s NAO audit report on students house which cited several irregularities. KSU’s position at students’ house was regularised and strengthened through discussions with the university administration.

Despite Arriva’s unglamorous departure, KSU have managed to retain the benefits of its sponsorship with them. A screen displaying arrival times for bus routes was installed and a transport fund of 10,000 encouraging students – with 30-40 applicants at the time of writing – to use public transport was set up. The KSU administration also put pressure on the canteen operators, becoming part of the tendering board in the process, and also on the education ministry in regard to stipends for repeaters.

A concentrated effort to become closer to the student was adopted through the incarnation of a consultation meeting and the formation of several sub-committees allowing members outside of the executive to take part in the running of KSU.

 

 

Posted in Features

Reviewing KSU’s uneducated plans for education

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Co-written by Francesca Borg Taylor-East

KSU’s list of recommendations for the latest Education Act Review, published in February,  is a distasteful mix of arbitrary flamboyance and bad grammar. In other words, it is complete rubbish. First of all, while their outlined goal for this report is to suggest educational improvements with special regards to the University of Malta (UoM), every suggestion either does not apply to the UoM or is already being implemented within it.

Students’ Rights and Student Involvement

The first issue tackled by KSU concerns the high level of apathy amongst UoM students. By ‘apathy’, we assume that they are at least partially referring to the annually low turnout of students who take a few minutes out of their time every year to vote for one of two parties that are so similar to each other that you may as well toss a coin to decide which one to back. They certainly cannot be referring to a lack of student involvement in issues that directly concern them and if they are, then they can be accused of hypocrisy. Apart from a few student representatives, KSU did not publicly ask any non-KSU students for feedback on this list of recommendations prior to its submission to the Ministry of Education and Employment (MEE). How can they speak of concern for the level of student apathy at UoM when they themselves do not let students in on decisions as important as these?

The solution proposed by KSU to counter such apathy is to tackle it ‘at its roots; early education’, through the implementation of student councils across primary and secondary schools which they believe will ‘instill further awareness of active citizenship at a relatively early age’. The reason such a proposal could not possibly work is that it is heavily grounded in a fallacy, namely that student apathy is a result of something wrong with the student.

When one looks into the structure of the education system, it becomes clear that student apathy is an inevitable side product of it. Modern education is based off a style of learning where knowledge flows from the textbook into the student’s brain before re-surfacing on that student’s exam paper. This process gives students the message that the single most important aspect of education is the final mark at the end of the year.

Along the way, students are not encouraged to be active participants in their own education. Yes, teachers often speak about ‘good participation’ but this is simply taken to mean that students should raise their hands to ask and answer questions about the syllabus. They have no right to question the structure of the syllabus itself, nor to criticize the content of what they are learning. Even subjects like art that are supposed to foster creativity are bogged down with tedious lessons about still-life and art appreciation. Do KSU really believe that introducing student councils will manage to condition students towards active citizenship? The real question here is how students are expected to be active participants in a system that rewards diligent passivity. For KSU to then go and blame students for their own apathy seems unfair to say the least.

Employability

KSU’s second proposal is that students should be ‘made aware that excelling in academia does not make you automatically appealing for employment’ and that employers also seek out non-academic skills from potential employees. Since such ‘skills’ are not defined further, we will hypothesize that KSU are referring to such soft skills as leadership, an ability to think critically, to communicate effectively, and to work productively as part of a team. Their proposed solution involves an unspecified form of collaboration with employment organizations to render the quest for a part-time job easier for University students.

If the problem is that not enough University students possess the necessary soft skills to find themselves a job, how will an increased awareness among students on the possibility of part-time jobs solve anything? By making it more likely that they will find an employer who is lax with regards to their lack of non-academic skills? Surely it is a far better idea to properly teach such soft skills to students while they are still at primary and secondary school…

Reduction of Early School Leavers- A cooperation between stakeholders

With regards to the reduction of early school-leavers, KSU has made full use of bombastic buzzwords so as to cloak its sheer lack of substance. It speaks about ‘education entities and relevant stakeholders’ without explaining in any way what these entities and who these stakeholders are. They state a need for ‘an attentive mechanism which gauges the abilities of students’ and, later on, for ‘an outreach mechanism, in different secondary institutions’ while leaving the exact statuses of said mechanisms shrouded in mystery.

They do however mention the lack of awareness among students of the possibilities of further educational options as a possible cause for the high level of early school-leavers in Malta. That is a very base postulation. We are quite sure that a large percentage of the early school drop-outs are aware of the existence of tertiary levels of education. The absence from KSU’s report of any mention to the relevance of those students’ situations at home is quite surprising…

Digital Education

KSU also suggests a general shift of education towards newer technological forms of teaching. Since Maltese schools have clearly already started moving in this direction, this is hardly a radical proposal. Also, its outline for this shift is a predictably vague one that does not provide any further details other than the implementation of technology such as the Virtual Learning Environment across ‘various stages of education’.

Reduction of bureaucracy and inefficiency

There is not much to say about this particular paragraph in KSU’s report, simply because it does not, strictly speaking, say anything. True, it does suggest the ‘implementation of a centralised system to deal with most of the administrative processes in the education sector’. However, it does not expand on this statement, let alone provide a sketch as to what they mean by a ‘centralised system’ or, heaven forbid, how they plan to introduce it.

 The Higher Education System

Finally, KSU speaks about the need to keep the UoM in constant ‘line with international and EU standards’. In this case, we are not criticizing them for being wrong but for preaching to the converted. The UoM is already an internationally recognized institution and in frequent contact with other foreign universities. Do KSU mention what standards they are referring to? Of course not. I suppose they can be credited for consistency in their ambiguity…

As a final point, KSU also requests a seat and vote on the University Senate as this vote ‘will signify that University recognizes KSU as the official student council and official spokesperson to the student body.’ If this is a deliberate ‘mistake’, then full marks to KSU for their equivocation. If not, then KSU should speak ‘for’ rather than ‘to’ the student body. Ironically, this particular grammatical mistake adequately depicts the current state of affairs between KSU and students on campus.

We look forward to reading KSU’s response.

http://www.ksu.org.mt/images/resources/Education%20Act%20Review%20Recommendations%20-%20Feb%202014.pdf

KSU have replied to this article.  The reply can be found here:

http://insiteronline.com/news/ksu-reply-insiteronlines-education-act-review/

Posted in Features, News, Opinion

Is KSU truly independent?

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With the halfway point of the year very well behind us, comes the promise of the second semester and a brief yet well-received break after the engulfing stress of the January examination session – which serve as a faithful premonition of the elusive and not-so-distant replica in June.

Among the endless exciting prospects we can look forward to in the next few months is the much-anticipated “mini General Election”, in which the cloned minions of the political parties in our increasingly polarized system will battle it out for the top seat on campus – Kunsill Studenti Universitarji (KSU).

Considering the epitome of intellectuality present at the highest educational institution on the island, one would expect that the process involved would be an exemplary model for representative elections. However, the reality is that we cannot even seem to shake off the parasitic bi party mentality at university, shattering all hopes of ever ridding the country of this same malady.

Both SDM and Pulse will take advantage of their less than transparent income to fund the sprouting of posters, pop up banners and stands. Lest we forget the tasteless printing of infinite amounts of manifestos containing their proposals. Year in year out, the election process is also blessed with a barrage of criticism from both internal and external sources, lambasting the meager turnout, which, although increasing steadily, is still indicative of an extremely disenchanted student population. We can also expect the Pulse faithful to blame their inability to elect a candidate on an unfair electoral system which is not truly representative, due to the fact that the students who vote for pulse are not given a voice in the council. Both will rally their cult followng into attending the KSU Annual General Meeting, kick starting the week-long campaign.

As is Insite’s tradition at this time of the year, I have studied SDM’s manifesto from last year, in order to come up with a comprehensive list of ten of the most prominent proposals that are yet to be implemented:

1. The introduction of an “Art in Action Space” which will offer a permanent space in which students can showcase various types of artwork

2. Convincing the University administration to introduce ECTS credits for work in student organisations

3. Reducing bureaucracy in the university administration

4. Increasing the use of VLE

5. Giving students the opportunity to be able to resit exams failed in the January session in June instead of September

6. Introducing the KSU Culture Card which would allow students certain benefits such as reduced prices or discounts to many local events and museums throughout the year

7. Introducing a system whereby exam results are published in the order of their ECTS credit value

8. Installing outdoor heaters at Quadrangle

(Parallels can be drawn with the 2012 electoral promise to renovate Quadrangle, which eventually degenerated into a design competition on Facebook and which nobody has heard anything about in a while)

9. Introducing a rent a bike scheme

10. Introducing a first come first serve parking scheme whereby students would be able to park in any space after 12pm

I recently paid a visit to KSU’s office in students’ house and was told with great conviction that many of the above will actually be materializing in the coming months. I was told that discussions with the university administration were reaching positive conclusions. While diligently performing my journalistic duty in conducting the above research, I cannot help but notice a simultaneous sense of frustration at having given KSU the satisfaction of having done so. Reviews like this one are only made possible by the insistence to furnish our expectations with these lavish proposals.

A recent mobile upload on the KSU Facebook page showed the executive gathered around the conference room table and the caption bluntly admitted that they were “holding a manifesto review meeting”. The befuddled looks on their faces said it all. Sleepless nights and heaps of time were being spent on trying to achieve these gargantuan tasks. With the downright perversion of the elections, KSU has been demeaned into an executive body that is bound by political accountability whose focus becomes achieving the goals set out in its manifesto, not only to save face in front of the meager turnout of the student population who voted for them, but also to allow the party who elected them to be able to stand a chance in the next election. Granted that some of the proposals may actually be beneficial to the student, but what I am criticizing here is the fallacy of having an electoral manifesto to adhere to in the first place. How can both Pulse and SDM hope to win students over and to increase participation when they continue with this self-defeating process year in year out.

Not to mention the sheer impossibility of some of the proposals. Being aware of this, candidates will try to get away with it by peppering their proposals with statements like “we will work to”, “we will ensure that”, “we will pressure the administration” as if admitting “we never said it would happen for sure, we just said we would keep trying”. Charming. Why not just have a one-page manifesto with the following five words placed strategically in the centre:

“We will do our job”

An idealist student’s view of KSU should be a neutral student body that is willing to safeguard students’ rights and to be a voice for students in society even if it means going against the tide that is general opinion.

Although the KSU statute supposedly guarantees the independence of the KSU executive, the attachment to a manifesto creates and maintains the link with a political party. After all, why should we be satisfied with a student council whose main priority is solely fulfilling electoral promises? How can KSU expect to increase awareness and educate students about their work when the political motivations remain so deeply entrenched in everything they do?

The sheer poignancy of the above behaviour is self-evident. It is not befitting of the oldest students’ council in Europe. University politics just like politics in society in general does nothing but generate animosity, distrust and apathy among its conglomerates. Would it be too much to ask to have a council that worked solely for the benefit of the student without constantly having impending re-election and political expediency in mind?

This article was first published in the February edition of The Insiter. Grab your copy from the designated pick up points.

Posted in Features, Opinion

The woes of Serie A

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Ten years ago, if you asked any football fan which football league was the best, most of them would have instantly answered ‘Serie A’ (although the English Premiership would have come a close second). Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Since then, the Italian football elite has taken one hell of a beating, which can be attributed to several factors all occurring at once – the wake of the Calciopoli scandal (the shadow of which Serie A has still not fully recovered from), the economic downfall still being experienced in Italy, the reduction in the number of Champions League places from four to three, poor spectator attendance and overall poor club management. The Serie A is still nevertheless considered to be one of the top four football leagues in the world, with more players winning the Ballon d’Or while playing for a Serie A side than any other league.

Where the English Premier League is renowned for its fast, furious and physical style, the La Liga for its emphasis on technical skill and the Bundesliga on its excellent infrastructure and spectator attendance, the Serie A has been traditionally known as the most tactical and defensive league (non-fans commonly use the phrase “slow-motion league”). This has often been used as an excuse to explain why several players favour a move to other leagues over the Serie A, but this is arguably no longer applicable since differences in playing style between the leagues are far less readily apparent, with the emergence of attacking Italian teams such as this season’s new-look Roma, Fiorentina and Napoli.

In addition, football fans are increasingly criticising the La Liga and Bundesliga for their poor competition; with the latter being currently a Bayern Munich monopoly (even last year’s rivals Borussia Dortmund are looking poor this season), and the former has been dominated by Real Madrid and Barcelona for several years now, and it is only a resurgent Atletico Madrid under Diego Simeone that has looked capable of dethroning the duo and removing them from their pedestals. Serie A has no such problems – sure, defending champions Juventus are currently laughing their way to a third consecutive Scudetto, with only Roma looking capable of challenging, but the rest of the table is an absolute death pit, with just ten points separating fifth-placed newly-promoted Hellas Verona and thirteenth-placed Sampdoria.

So why does Serie A continue to struggle? A major reason is the fact that none of the Italian elite teams bar Juventus own their own stadiums. One of the main factors why Juventus have re-emerged as the dominant force in Italian football is their new home, the Juventus Stadium, which is owned by the club, allowing the bianconeri to directly collect revenue from spectator attendance and giving them total control over the stadium facilities. The rest of the clubs do not own their home grounds, but merely rent them from the respective cities. An example is the Giuseppe Meazza stadium in San Siro, which is owned by the Milan council, and to add insult to injury, the two Milan-based clubs, AC and Inter, have to share it. Italy is one of the few majaor footballing European countries to still allow this – in other countries such as England, this is not only intolerable but unthinkable. However, improvements are being made, with Roma and Inter planning to build their own stadiums within the next few years.

Foreign leagues such as the English Premier League have also been boosted by the cash influx generated by new foreign investors arriving, such as Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich and Manchester City’s Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, while the majority of Italian clubs are still owned by locals. However, with foreign investors recently arriving (such as Inter’s new Indonesian owner Erick Thohir), things are looking up.

In hindsight, while Serie A is looking bleak right now, one can’t help but feel that the night is darkest just before the dawn – progress is constantly being made and the Italian government has in fact recently agreed to step up a campaign to quickly improve the outdated football stadia. Time will tell if Serie A will regain its former glory, or will forever remain in the shadows of its rival leagues.

 

Posted in Opinion, Sport

How Facebook has changed student life since its inception

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Surprisingly for many, Facebook celebrated its tenth anniversary on Tuesday the 4th February. Originally called Thefacebook.com, today Facebook is the third most visited website behind Google and YouTube. It has regular users of all ages, from teenagers to middle-aged parents to the elderly, and even preadolescents who, despite Facebook’s minimum age limit of 13, have accounts. Because it is popular among all generations, it has inevitably changed the world in many ways. However, despite Facebook getting rid of its registration limits in September 2006, the dominant age group using the site is still the 18-29 group. Thus, it is the original target users who have been affected most by the social network: university students, both current and recently graduated.

Many adults view Facebook as something negative for students. It is not uncommon for students to have online friendships, where they talk to certain friends on Facebook often but do so much less face-to-face. This results in weaker relationships. As a written medium, students should also bear in mind that anything said on Facebook is more lasting than spoken conversation. This can have a detrimental effect on their relationships.

The most common argument made against Facebook is that it is a distraction for students. Many adults consider it to be a waste of time which students could use to study. As smartphones, tablets, and laptops pervade lecture halls, the Facebook addiction becomes more dangerous. During lectures almost every student has at least one means of accessing Facebook and communicating with friends rather than pay attention to the lecture. Another criticism of the social network is its limited privacy. Students often post things on Facebook without bearing in mind that anyone could be reading their posts. Some of these, including sharing personal stuff, photos, or political beliefs, could be harmful to students once they graduate and start looking for a job. During the past ten years, students have faced the task of making sure that they are not tagged in anything which they would rather not have everyone see, as Facebook has become an important part of employers’ pre-employment screening processes.

Facebook has, however, impacted student life in positive ways as well. From an employment point of view, students can use it to their benefit. Facebook is one huge lasting network. Many users add as online friends not only people they have known for a long time, but also course mates with whom they are not close or who are mere acquaintances; that person who they met during that extracurricular activity; or that exchange student who now lives on the other side of the planet. Once they are friends on Facebook, their relationship still exists in the background even if they have not met for a long time. That one friend who you hardly ever spoke to might be just the person you are looking for to get information in the future.

The benefits of this network are felt not only post-graduation, but also during the university years. Collaboration among students is easier than ever because students can work together from the comfort of their own homes. Most courses have Facebook groups where students can ask questions and discuss material related to their particular course. Updates on venue or timetable changes and other university-related things are shared easily among students through Facebook, ensuring that the message reaches everyone quickly.

Facebook is all about socialisation. Students can strengthen the relationships they make at university by keeping in touch with their friends when at home or during recess. Through Facebook, student organisations can keep students up to date with the latest events more easily, as an invitation is just one click of a button away, and any updates can be quickly communicated through a post. When studying, students can motivate or help each other without being too much of a distraction, because Facebook does not require a person to answer immediately.

Another major way in which Facebook has changed university life is by empowering the students’ voice in society. It has made communication between students and representatives quicker. Students can express their views on many important subjects. Facebook has also made many students more aware of contemporary events. While many young adults do not watch the news or read the newspaper, today they are still aware of the news because their friends share it on their walls.

Facebook has influenced university life in good and in bad ways. The negative impacts are pointed out more often than the positive ones, but I believe that responsible students can avoid them. The positive effects, however, are hard to replicate without Facebook. Thus, while many have criticised Facebook, I say we’ve had a good ten years, and may we have many more.

Posted in Opinion, Tech