The UASC on the University of Malta and the European Union
Many opinions have been expressed regarding the role of the University in the run-up to the EU referendum. The University Academic Staff Committee (UASC) has its own vision of the strategic role the University should play in addressing the challenges Malta is facing. Globalisation results in wages being constantly undercut by other nations. This means that we either invest in our people to move our economy to a knowledge-based one with higher rates of return, or else face competition for constantly diminishing rates of return, with a consequent lowering of our standard of living.
Therefore Malta needs to invest heavily in developing its intellectual capital so as to attract investors seeking to produce goods and provide services of higher added value, and better rates of return. We therefore need to enhance the development of our knowledge-based industry. This requires education and research of the highest quality and standard, as foreign investment will not materialise unless we guarantee a skilled workforce, led and instructed by highly educated professionals. The University is entrusted with the task of preparing the "knowledge" strata of the workforce, who should be the prime movers and thinkers - the innovators. From a purely utilitarian point of view, Malta must invest heavily in education and research to stand any chance of survival in a global economy, whether it is inside or outside the EU.
Though most people grant the University's role as a seat of learning, as a place where intellectuals pursue their research interests, and teach a growing number of students, few are conscious of the vital role that the University plays in the development of Maltese industry and society. Unfortunately, successive governments have endorsed a downgraded image of the University by their failure to fund it effectively and recognise the immense contribution from academics.
The UASC notes that individual members of the University academic staff have made highly valid contributions in the national debate regarding the EU and have been responsible for generating a substantial number of impact studies for various organizations irrespective of political persuasion. Where the University itself is concerned, the UASC expresses its appreciation for the group of academics, chaired by Professor Josef Lauri, who worked tirelessly to produce the report The University of Malta and Maltaís entry into the EU and a recently published follow up entitled, Action and Outcomes following the Malta-EU U.O.M. August 2000 report.
Both reports show how meticulously the University has considered the impact that entry into the EU would have on tertiary education in Malta. The University has instituted quality assurance procedures, worked on a smooth and transparent admissions policy and implemented modularization. Although Malta's membership will take progress at the University much further, this exercise was necessary irrespective of the country's future relationship with the EU.
In the event of Malta becoming a EU member state, there will inevitably be initial difficulties for the University that will be faced and solved. In this context the reports uphold the retention of the Maltese language as an entry requirement for professional courses, the necessity of continuing to provide Maltese students with maintenance grants, and the indispensability of adopting formula funding to cater for growing numbers of students. Moreover, some of the difficulties can be transformed into economical opportunities.
EU entry will accelerate and improve the University's international dimension, enhancing the personal learning experience of students and staff and broadening innovations through cross-fertilization of ideas. With EU membership, the University will also increase its potential in knowledge export, and this could become one of the most important trade sectors for Malta in the next few years, as indicated in the Lauri report.
The UASC feels that - with increased funding ensuring the University's continuance and augmentation of its important role in Maltese society - the University, its academic members of staff, its students and, as a result the country that benefits from them, stand to gain from Malta's entry into the European Union.