Student apathy amongst University of Malta (UoM) students has been one of the hot topics of this year’s KSU elections with both Pulse and SDM adopting a strong stance against it and trying to convince students that they have what it takes to counter it. I use the word ‘apathy’ very loosely as the way it has been thrown around has been as a synonym for the gap between KSU and the student body as reflected in the perennially low turn-out of voters.
The language used when discussing this problem is crucial. By describing it as ‘student apathy’, the message is that the overall structure of KSU is fine but can be tweaked to accommodate those students who have to be pushed towards activity.
Well, the glaring, simple truth is that the structure of KSU is not fine, leastways not as an organization that claims to represent the needs and wishes of the student body. As Mina Tolu said, bluntly, but I believe quite accurately, during last Friday’s Candidates in the Hotseat Debate, organised by Insite Malta, students are primarily concerned about those issues that concern and affect them directly. I will argue that the same principle also applies to KSU candidates.
It is not a deep passion for the well-being of students that drives candidates on but a desire for political experience, contacts and a great-looking paragraph on their CVs. The majority of the student body can see through their pre-election rhetoric and the party slogans that always claim to place the ‘regular student’ at the centre of KSU. Massive faces of smiling candidates all around campus don’t encourage students to vote; in fact, they even repulse a lot of students. They know that, once election-time is over, the winning party will move up to their offices and the losing party will retreat to the background, only to re-emerge in a year’s time. Moreover, a large percentage of students believe that SDM and Pulse are simply microcosms of the two large Maltese political parties and that their views as stated in their manifestos are all but identical to each other.
I believe that Mark Grech was correct when he said, during Friday’s debate, that the way KSU is organised does not encourage active student involvement. Take last Wednesday’s AGM as an example. The KSU officials, dressed in suits, sat at the front of the hall. Doors were shut in students’ faces, a question asked by a student was temporarily dismissed, and the AGM was halted twice so that Thomas Bugeja could publicly criticize Insite’s live blog feed of the event. It was obvious where the power was centred and it was not within the student body as their campaign slogan ‘Together, Authors of a Better University’ had suggested it would be. With such a ‘we know best’ attitude, how can KSU expect anything but large-scale student apathy?
Now comes the tricky bit. How can KSU properly bridge the gap between themselves and the rest of the students?
- All KSU’s future decisions must be made transparent. It is not enough for their doors to be open to student queries. They must come out and tell the student body about such decisions themselves. For example, their decision to spend over €70,000 on last year’s Grad Ball was only made public during their AGM. That was a major decision and students should have had the right to know about it as soon as it had left their office.
- All announcements also have to be presented in English. UoM has a large body of foreign students, a lot of them who choose to study at the UoM precisely because English is its language of instruction. Whenever KSU presents something in Maltese, they subsequently isolate a significant percentage of students. Rhetoric and fancy buzzwords should also be abandoned. There is no shame in saying what needs to be said in a clear and simple manner.
- It is not enough that KSU’s decisions be made transparent though. They must also be decisions that have been suggested or approved by the student body. Working with other student organizations and student representatives is commendable but the majority of students do not fall under these categories. When Pulse and SDM release their manifestos, their respective candidates walk around campus, hand them out to individual students, and engage in discussion with any student who is willing to do so. This is a fine idea but why does it only occur during election time? KSU should regularly approach students in such a manner throughout the year, telling them what has been achieved and what is in the pipeline, as well as asking them for feedback and, dare I say it, advice.
- Finally it is about time that SDM and Pulse surrender their bipartisan nature and start aiming towards a more meritocratic KSU. If Friday’s debate proved anything to me, it was that some SDM candidates seem more capable of fulfilling their desired positions than their Pulse counterparts, and vice versa. As far as I am aware, a mixed students’ council has never been implemented within UoM but the benefits a true meritocracy can yield do not really need to be expounded on and I hope that Clive Gerada and Gayle Lynn Callus will discuss this issue and encourage students to vote for the individual candidates and not for the student organizations during tomorrow’s debate.