Mirroring the industrial action taken back in 2009, the ‘University of Malta Academic Staff Association’ (UMASA) has decided to play the same ‘chess/ opening move’ resulting in potential delays in the publication of results due to the failure to come to an accord on an acceptable collective agreement. KSU have subsequently put forward their own amendments to the collective agreement but Andrea Gonzi questions whether the students’ gambit is a comprehensive one.
When it comes to agreements and disputes related to academic staff, rarely is the students’ side ever told, that is, unless the publication of results is used as a bargaining tool. Therefore could one blame the surprise on our faces when KSU showed us a 6 page report highlighting their input in the discussions? Although being slightly unambitious, the 4 points that the KSU executive decided to push forward should be considered absolutely necessary in our education system and could improve standards.
Interestingly, the first proposal seemingly takes the side of the academic staff by highlighting that salaries should be maintained or improved. The reasoning given was that failing to do so may encourage staff to ‘…(look) for greener pastures in the private sector, the industry or in foreign universities…’ thus pointing out that students would lose out due to a reduction in high-quality staff.
KSU plays it safe by emphasising that ‘…bettering of the academic’s financial remuneration must never be made at the students’ expense’ and that there should be payment packages that remunerate a ‘… consolidated research effort’.
The second proposal was centered on the quality of the education provided – a point which has been criticised time after time by both students and student organisations alike. The report highlights that lecturers should adopt lecturing methods which consist of using ‘visual media’ and educational technologies such as the ‘Virtual Learning Environment’ (VLE), and ‘Turnitin’. The report also highlights that the former is preferable than the ‘diction of notes’ since it is ‘…perceived as an outdated methodology’.
KSU has also suggested that the ‘Study-Unit Feedback’ become a ‘two way-loop’ and allow lecturers to submit what it terms as a ‘Coursework Feedback’ which would highlight personal improvement opportunities to students.
The 3rd proposal titled ‘Publication of Results’ is arguably the one carrying the most import to students. The report goes on to strongly criticise any delays in publication of results by stating that ‘…there is an established perception that University of Malta is highly bureaucratic, inefficient and less considerate to students’. However it also claims that this minority of academic staff is reflecting on those that are fulfilling their responsibilities.
KSU has proposed that the deadline for the submission of results should be established according to their ECTS weighting and has suggested that results for 1-2 ECTS subjects should be given 2 weeks after the exam. The maximum deadline should be 5 weeks after the exams, reserved for those subjects with a weight 8 or more ECTS. However, in a comment made to Insiteronline, KSU President Gayle Lynn Callus informed us that, due to what seems to be practical reasons, this particular proposal has been rejected.
Although suggesting that the supplementary and semester 2 submission deadlines remain the same, KSU has suggested that the deadlines for semester 1 results be reduced to mid- March. Callus highlighted that the semester 1 exams, which statistically account for the majority of exams taken throughout the University of Malta, have a longer deadline than semester 2 exams and thus KSU was asking for parity between the two. This proposal is set to be accepted.
The final proposal carries miscellaneous proposals ranging from the ‘Intellectual Property Section’ in the agreement to the quality of lectures by lecturers who have surpassed their retirement age.
Overall, the suggestions put forward by KSU, especially those that have to do with the often criticised deadline for the publication of results, are solid and most definitely improve the disadvantaged position of the student. However, there is one crucial suggestion that KSU has omitted entirely. Within the current collective agreement there are no penalties highlighted to staff who breach this agreement and therefore any changes to the agreement could ultimately prove fruitless.