The Malta Independent 26 May 2019, Sunday

A good initiative in education

Simon Mercieca Monday, 15 February 2016, 09:40 Last update: about 4 years ago

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat used the General Annual Meeting of the Birgu Labour Party Club to re-assure the nation that the next two years are going to be far better than the three that have just drifted away. In itself, such a statement is conceding that the past years of Labour rule have not been as good as they are being depicted by pro-government media and I don’t think it was a coincidence that this message was delivered in one of Labour’s strongholds.

My intention is not to debate whether the past three years were good or not but to focus on one of the promises made by the Prime Minister that a much better future awaits Malta. The Prime Minister mentioned the setting up of the American University as a proof of what he means. I am using the term “American University” because the Prime Minister himself used it despite the fact that it is now official that no such university will be opening in Malta. What started out as an American University has now fizzled out. Instead, we now have an educational institute. Institutes, whether undergraduate and post-graduate, do not have faculties – as we were promised for the American University but divisions. Thus, either the Prime Minister is lying (which per se would be very serious) or else he does not know exactly what is happening in this particular area of education. If the economic renaissance that the Prime Minister is promising is coming from this hypothetical university, then this is not going to materialize except possibly as a grandiose touristic complex. Therefore, the Prime Minister should stop speaking in terms of a university because he is doing more harm than good not just to our country but also to another initiative in education, which is taking place under his very watch.

A few weeks ago, the Times of Malta carried a report that the European Graduate School of Saas Fee in Switzerland is going to open a campus in Malta. Saas Fee is a place where no cars are allowed. People commute on small electric cars, on foot or using bicycles.  It is one of the few places in Europe were skiing can take place all year round.

This announcement was accompanied by a visit to Malta by the President of this establishment, Hubertus von Amelunxen.  He came here after his institution was granted permission to operate in Malta. Von Amelunxen made it a point to emphasize that his institution has nothing to do with the AUM controversy.

In fact, Hubertus von Amelunxen emphasized that the institution that he leads is “…a non-profit university that has never had and will never have any property.” Moreover, he is reported to have told the Times of Malta that “If a university is more focused on questions of real estate than curriculum, that’s a problem”.

Yet, he had to admit the negative impact that the setting up of the American University could have on serious foreign universities wishing to use Malta as their base. He was reported to have said that (and I quote) “I don’t think there’s a problem with foreign universities in Malta; I think there’s a scepticism about what [the AUM] wants to achieve.”

Hubertus von Amelunxen was stating the truth when he said that this initiative had started many years ago with Peter Serracino Inglott. I am stating this, as I was involved in these discussions. The European Graduate School approached Fr. Peter when he was Chairman of the Mediterranean Institute. Discussions followed about curriculum and programmes. A delegation from the European Graduate School visited Malta. I believe that they were introduced to Malta by a lawyer, who had successfully followed their course in Switzerland and wanted to bring them over. Both Fr. Peter and I welcomed this initiative. Fr. Peter asked me and another Director from another institute to visit Saas Fee to see how this institute was run. After three days of intense discussions with EGS, they concluded that the European Graduate School should rope-in ties with the Mediterranean Institute and start offering its course through the Mediterranean Institute.

Unfortunately, our University did not support the project. But this is another story that goes beyond political bias and is more related to personal agendas, which are so strong at our university.

I am happy that EGS did not abandon its project and after a change in administration, once again re-considered opening a branch of their prestigious institute or campus in Malta. In reality, they will be using spaces, already available, as they are not interested in building projects. Even in Switzerland, their emphasis is not on the buildings but on the quality of their academic courses. They aim to reach out to individuals who are already in a profession but who wish to continue enhancing their professional performance. This is an unconventional centre, which focuses on cross-disciplinary study, with a unique focus on collaborative learning and a dedicated commitment to fostering social change. They are committed towards the creation of political leaders. EGS understands that academic success today is to be found in guiding students to embrace and not to coerce them into hiding their potential from the global world.

Pique and personal agendas have prevented this institution from opening its doors when Fr. Peter was still alive but I am happy that his initiatives are still continuing to bear fruit four years after his demise. This and similar stories explains why I am personally against the networking that takes place in Malta amongst individuals that goes beyond politics and why I strongly oppose it. This explains why some feel affronted by the way I write, including academics, because, they have every interest to support this web of networking based on the system of patron and client.

At the same time, when a government embarks on deceitful projects in education, it will end up obfuscating its own good work and the performance in this sector as I am sure EGS will be a successful academic institution.

 

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