‘Normal practice’ to invite Prime Minister to University graduation

Gabriel Schembri

Saturday, 25 November 2017, 09:06
Last update: about 4 hours ago

November is graduation period for the University of Malta, with several ceremonies held over the month. But this year’s graduation ceremonies included something, or rather someone extra.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat took part in the graduation ceremonies held on the 11, 20, 14 and 21 November, handing out graduation certificates. Wearing a blue and orange graduation robe, Muscat joined the faculty deans and rector a bizarre, yet unique show for new graduates.

Photos of Muscat’s appearance at these ceremonies spread on the internet like wildfire, with many questioning the PM’s role.

Replying to questions sent by this newspaper, a University of Malta spokesperson said it has been normal practice for many years to invite the Prime Minister of the time to all university graduation ceremonies.

So far, Muscat attended four graduation ceremonies, including the ceremony for the graduation of teachers. “The Office of the Prime Minister will be informing the University of his attendance at any other ceremonies,” the spokesperson said.

Although the Prime Minister’s attendance might not be deemed as strange by everyone, the timing for Muscat’s appearance in these ceremonies comes at a time when the government is being accused of political interference at the university.

The University of Malta Act, which is in public consultation stage, proposes the establishment of a new Governing Board, members of which would be appointed by the Prime Minister.

“The Rector is to attend meetings of the Board whenever he is invited to do so,” the proposal reads, meaning that he is not permanently on the board. “The members should not have any direct interest in the university, governmental ministries or be members of parliament, in order to allow the members to exercise proper and independent supervision,” the proposed legislation says.

The board’s functions are: “to ensure that that the Executive Board complies with legislation, rules and regulations and directives relating to the institution; to approvee plans and decisions taken by the Executive Board;  to consider and approve the university’s business plan, annual budget and academic plan; to ensures, using systems of internal and external audit, that the administration and management of the University proceed according to approved plans and budgets; and to act as an Appeals Body for any decision taken by the Council, including those on advice of its Committees, with respect to academic and administrative staff.”

University academics and unions such as the union for teachers MUT, have all expressed their scepticism.