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SDM’s “Think Ahead” conference raises controversy

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Last Saturday SDM (Studenti Demokristjani Maltin) organised an important conference “Thinking Ahead”, where various university student organisations were asked to take part in a constructive discussion on the present and future role the KSU (Kunsill Studenti Universitarji) must have in the interest of all the students. KSU President Thomas Bugeja was one of the guest speakers asked to give an overview of how KSU works in one of the workshops organised for the occasion. Amongst the points he put forward for discussion were how KSU members work voluntarily when compared to the different student councils in other European Universities.

SDM’s comments
When asked about the report issued in inews.com which suggested that Thomas Bugeja wanted KSU members to be paid for their work, SDM spokesperson Ian Zarha (General Secretary) said that this was not the case. He claimed that the article on inews.com did not inform the reader that the conference was organised by SDM and not KSU. He said that all those who attended and accepted SDM’s invitation to discuss the future of KSU could testify this. The KSU President, Thomas Bugeja, said that he immediately contacted inews.com to clarify the matter.

Thomas Bugeja, KSU President’s comments
When contacted by Insiteronline.com Thomas Bugeja said he personally believed that the news report on inews.com was misleading. It “takes a few of the things I said and puts them completely out of the context in which they were said. The report fails to clarify that the conference was organized by SDM, with the intention of getting students from different organisations to discuss KSU and its direction, in a mature and sensitive way.”

“Unfortunately it also focuses solely on the ‘controversial’ or more newsworthy points mentioned, with the article being written in a way to make it seem like KSU is actually considering taking up these points as proposals, when in actual fact the only aim of my address was to start a healthy debate on KSU’s workings.

The whole point of my short address in the conference was made to raise a number of questions with their pros and cons, on the models used by foreign Student Unions and their operation. The points which I mentioned were many and included, if KSU should rethink the way Freshers’ Week works, if KSU executive members should be allowed or maybe made to take a gap year during their tenure in KSU, if KSU members should be given some sort of remuneration e.g. a supplementary stipend for their work in KSU etc.
No proposal was ever made, neither in my personal capacity nor on behalf of KSU – The points I made were simple rhetorical questions, which were meant to trigger a mature thought process, a sensible discussion and an informed debate between the representatives of the different student organizations present at the conference.

Nevertheless, although KSU takes a toll on one’s personal life, one’s time and one’s ability to have a part-time job, I personally believe that the voluntary nature of KSU’s work is an intrinsic part of KSU’s nature, and should remain at the core of KSU’s values as a voluntary and autonomous student council.”

Pulse’s comments

When contacted by insiteronline.com, Matthew Zerafa, Pulse President said “My comment came about not as a response to the article, but rather to the fact that during SDM’s Conference, which was urging attendees to “think ahead” on “KSU’s future role on Campus”, Council President Thomas Bugeja introduced the idea of having a salary forked out to KSU members. During the Conference, Pulse representatives had the opportunity to speak out against this idea, as it is not only unsustainable and unjust, but also wholly incompatible with the current structure, remit, and format of the Council.”

He continued by saying “Indeed, while Mr. Bugeja attempted to justify his proposal by making a comparative exercise to other European student bodies, he failed to recognise the fact that even here, questions are being raised on whether students should pay to have their representation rightly guaranteed. I indeed, in Austria (which was mentioned by Mr. Bugeja in his introductory address) and Great Britain, debates arose over whether issuing salaries for student representatives leads to abuse of the system and a detachment from the overall aim of student politics.”

“As we did during the SDM Conference, we warn that such an idea goes against the very nature and tradition of student representation in Malta, and does nothing except further distancing the student body from its electors. Indeed, KSU might be better suited to tackle the abysmal student turnout, which is symptomatic of a student population disillusioned by the Council’s track record. Definitely more needs to be done in this regard, and it was a disappointment that SDM chose not to put such a pivotal issue on the Conference’s agenda.”

“We are shocked that KSU chose not to use its right of reply to the iNews article, which we sincerely hope is not reflective of a Council at ease with the content contained in the coverage. We therefore call upon KSU to issue a statement to the press clarifying its stand on the issue once and for all. From our behalf, our beliefs are clear – students deserve a Council which seeks to put them at its core, and not a body lost in contemplation on how grab hold of perks and privileges.”

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