University drops optional use of Maltese in exams

Raphael Vassallo

A number of students in various courses at the University of Malta – notably Law, but also the newly offered Master of Arts in Maltese Studies, among others – are incensed at the recent revision of assessment regulations, which has eliminated the option to submit dissertations or written examination papers in Maltese.
Come June this year, University students will for the first time (and with a few exceptions, as outlined below) find themselves restricted to the English language in all courses: a situation described by some as ‘un-Constitutional’, ‘undemocratic’ and basically ‘unfair’.
Critics also hold that the decision runs counter to the spirit of multilingualism prevalent in the European Union, where Maltese is recognised as an official language.
Furthermore, the Constitution recognises as ‘official’ both Maltese and English, whereas tradition has bestowed upon the former the additional accolade of ‘national’ language.
Contacted this week, University rector Prof. Juanito Camilleri confirmed that the new amendments enjoyed the blessing of the University Senate, though he pointed out that the possibility of exceptions in certain cases has also been written into the new rules.
“In October 2009, the Regulations Governing Conduct at Examinations, LN 171 of 1997, amended – LN 259 of 1998, and Assessment Tests Regulations LN 174 of 1997, were repealed. The new regulations followed discussions within the University, and were approved by Senate,” he told MaltaToday.
“According to the University regulations, the language of assessment is English, except that for areas of study involving a language, or when Senate approves the delivery of a study-unit in Maltese or in any other language, students shall be assessed in that language.”
However, not all faculties were elated at this development, and at least one section of the Faculty of Arts – the Institute of Maltese Studies, headed by Prof. Henry Frendo – responded by requesting an exception in the case of its recently inaugurated Masters’ course.
Senate eventually consented to this request, but only with regard to two specific study-units: Maltese Literature, and Maltese Language and Ethnicity.
“In the case of the Master’s course offered by the Institute of Maltese Studies, Senate had agreed that for the assessment of two units directly related to the Maltese language and its literature, questions will be drawn up in both Maltese and English and students would be given the choice of answering in either language, with the proviso that all questions in an exam paper should be answered in the same language,” Camilleri said.
One mature student currently enrolled in this course is former transport minister Censu Galea, who told this newspaper that he is opposed to the new regulations, regardless of any exceptions for his chosen subject.
“Being able to answer in Maltese should be an option available to all students,” he said when contacted about the issue this week. “I am unaware of any formally organised protests against the situation, but yes, some students are complaining. I support their complaints.”
It is understood that the bulk of the opposition comes from students within the Faculty of Law, which has long enjoyed a ‘tradition’ of bilingualism in exam submissions.
Arnold Cassola, associate professor of Maltese and comparative literature, was critical of the decision, calling it “pathetic”.
“I can’t understand the rationale behind the Senate’s decision. I can understand that, for practical or monetary reasons, lessons must be given in English because of foreign students. But who gains out of not being able to choose to answer in his own language, apart from the possible anti-constitutionality of the measure.”
But not all academics are equally critical of the new rules.
Prof. Dominic Fenech, a member of the Senate which approved the recent change, acknowledged that the decision is unpopular, but explained that it had been necessitated by logistical, rather than ideological, considerations.
“The University of Malta aspires to be an international institution, and one of our selling points is the fact that lectures and assessment take place in English,” he said, adding that he himself does not feel strongly about the issue either way.
“There is also the issue of external examiners: an important consideration for us, as it enables the University to maintain international standards.”
The language polemic periodically raises its head at the University of Malta: the most recent controversy dates back to October 2001, when Maltese was dropped as an entry requirement for the Faculty of Law.

The revised regulations
“11. (1) The language of assessment shall be English, except that for areas of study involving a language or when Senate approves the delivery of a Study-Unit in Maltese or in any other language, students shall be assessed in that language.
“(2) Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (1) of this regulation, a Board may allow students, for a just and sufficient reason, to present for assessment work written in any other language after the Board has ascertained, to the satisfaction of Senate, that all the examiners, including the external examiner, are sufficiently proficient in that language to be able to assess the work at the same standard.”

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