5th October – Students’ Day

Today may not mean much to some of the readers.

To others it means a lot. In particular it is Student’s Day.

Student’s Day commemorates the day when the students stood up in protest in 1977. I was there.  A second year student in the then Faculty of Engineering and Architecture

It was 1977 when Medical Students had their lecturers locked out as a result of the trade dispute between MAM, the medical doctors’ union,  and Government.  With their lecturers locked out students could not attend lectures.

Chained to the railing at Auberge de Castille, the students carried placards stating “I want to study in Malta”.

Early in the afternoon of the 5th October the Students’ Council Annual General Meeting at University suspended its session and those present proceeded to Valletta in full support of the Medical Students. Almost immediately a substantial number of police from their Floriana HQ caught up with us students and chased us all the way from Valletta to University. Some were manhandled and beaten.

It was the beginning of a very long and sad story, a very difficult time for tertiary education.

The Labour Government led by Dom Mintoff commenced substantial changes to the tertiary educational setup. Labour devised a “one size fits all” student worker scheme based on government’s requirements in state hospitals. Six months study were to be followed by six months work with some holidays and examinations sandwiched in between.

The work experience, if properly planned was beneficial. But unfortunately it was not as students ended up as part of the ordinary workforce with insufficient time to dedicate to their studies. Various submisions were made to government to change the system, but Labour would not listen.

The university student population at that time was around 400. A substantial contrast to the current 10,000+ population.

It was Labour’s darkest hour in tertiary education.

originally published in di-ve.com on 5 October 2012