Fresher’s Week: an all-you-can-consume affair?

There’s a lot more going on, that sadly doesn’t attract half the media attention.

POV: You step onto campus during Freshers’ Week as a student.

The main quad is bustling with activity, with colourful tents and booths lining the pathways. There are many commercial stands vying for your attention. Amongst the attractive discounts and freebies, it becomes clear that Freshers’ Week serves not only as an introduction to the upcoming academic year but also as a week filled with advertisement.

From branded merchandise and the pressure to attend social events to the flaunting of technological items, it often seems as though the emphasis has shifted away from the genuine essence of the university experience. This begs the question on whether this materialistic trend perpetuates an unhealthy consumer culture and creates an environment where students without substantial financial means may feel marginalised or unable to fully participate in the trendy campus community.

Is it really all about commerce?

Not really. There’s a lot more going on, that sadly doesn’t attract half the media attention. Freshers’ Week activities in the quadrangle are entirely organised by the Kunsill Studenti Universitarji (KSU). However, the University of Malta, through its Marketing, Communications, and Alumni Office, arranges various informative sessions and presentations involving key stakeholders.

These sessions aim to acquaint incoming students with university procedures and the available avenues for seeking assistance throughout their academic journey. These activities encompass presentations delivered by the academic registrar, meetings with Deans and Department Heads, and faculty walkabouts, among others. A wide range of free services are offered, including a Help Hub, a Student Recruitment Office, a Health and Wellness Centre, and Student Advisory Services. In addition, the Marketing, Communications, and Alumni Office sets up a booth at the entrance of the Gateway Building. This Help Hub extends its operating hours to accommodate students’ inquiries effectively.

KSU also plays an essential role in supporting students during this transitional period, offering services such as the Calm Room, KSU helpdesk, a multi-faith prayer room, the Kokka Salott co-working space, and providing student handbooks for both local and international freshers. Additionally, a designated chill-out area is available for those who prefer a quieter space away from the lively hustle and bustle of Freshers’ Week.

With all this in mind, we start to realise that perhaps the real issue is that the academic aspect related to Freshers’ Week is not given as much hype as the commercial aspect, at least judging by what is communicated on platforms such as social channels. The reason for that seems obvious: companies who set up shop on campus come equipped with their own PR agents, eager to sell their product to fresh faces.

That Nicola Interview

In a recent publicity event, Nicola, known for her appearance on Love Island, was hired by a local radio station to interact with students. She went around asking them which university course they considered to be the most overrated…a stunt that raised many eyebrows. Similarly, during last year’s Freshers’ Week, a radio host approached students and inquired about experiences such as cheating on exams or having a romantic interest in a teacher. How could these possibly contribute to the academic journey, I hear you ask.

The role of business partnerships during Freshers’ Week at the University of Malta, according to the KSU, is to provide students with a more welcoming atmosphere and show them valuable insight of potential avenues of employment, awareness of services, agencies and NGOs that are available to students throughout their university life and beyond.

That doesn’t really explain that Nicola interview, does it? The KSU elaborates that the role of business partnerships is to create a more fun, interesting, and well-equipped university experience, providing students with a welcoming atmosphere aimed at making students feel more in tune with what the world around them has to offer and how it can vitalise their experience from a formal, non-formal and informal perspective.

After all, it doesn’t take much to figure that creating a fun and engaging university experience can have several positive outcomes for students. Enjoyable learning environments might enhance students’ motivation to participate actively in classes, leading to improved learning outcomes. A fun atmosphere can help reduce stress and anxiety among students, promoting their overall mental well-being. Not to mention that it can foster stronger social connections and a sense of belonging among students, contributing to their overall satisfaction and retention rates.

Keeping It In Check

It’s important to emphasise that the University follows specific procedures for identifying and choosing businesses or organizations to collaborate with. The process operates on a “first come, first served” basis, with certain stands like kellimni.com, NSTS, and the Malta Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society assured of participation. In addition to these guaranteed participants, each request submitted undergoes a thorough due diligence assessment.

Although some of the companies who make it have a stronger social media presence than others, the commercial landscape during Freshers’ Week on campus encompasses a range of entities, including financial services providers, company service providers, and government agencies.

According to the KSU, there are specific guidelines and criteria that businesses are required to follow when taking part in Freshers’ Week. These regulations encompass a wide range of aspects, including the materials allowed on the stand and the proper disposal of waste. Stringent rules are in place, and it is imperative that these guidelines are strictly always adhered to.

For instance, one such rule dictates that company representatives are prohibited from leaving their stands and approaching students; instead, it is the students who initiate contact by approaching the stands. Truth be told: these rules turn murky, when we see students being approached by local presenters under the guise of fun interviews.

Perhaps Bay Radio being the official radio station on campus allows it to follow a set of rules and guidelines that distinguish it from other commercial entities present during Fresher’s Week and even overshadow University’s own radio station: Campus FM.

When It’s Over

Once Freshers’ Week is over, KSU distributes evaluation forms to every participating organisation, and post-event commission meetings are held, inviting all students to contribute their feedback. The proceeds generated from Freshers’ Week play a vital role in enabling KSU to offer students various services and financial support opportunities.

These include the Green Fund, which provides subsidies for environmentally friendly transportation options, the Sports Fund to allocate budgets to sports organisations, and the Arts Fund, facilitating active student participation in the local arts and cultural scene.

Therefore, we start to see that the presence of commercial entities during Fresher’s is not solely about pursuing profit for its own sake; instead, the involvement of commercial entities can genuinely benefit students.

What Do We Conclude?

The significance of drawing students to Freshers’ Week lies in its capacity to serve as a platform for fostering a sense of community, facilitating personal growth, and promoting a smooth transition into university life. It’s vital to stay focused on creating an inclusive and enjoyable atmosphere that encourages students to connect, explore their interests and feel a sense of belonging.

Yet it’s equally important to ensure that the essence of Freshers’ Week remains rooted in its original purpose: to welcome students and provide them with the tools they need to embark on their educational journey with enthusiasm, confidence, and an eagerness to learn.

Perhaps the real challenge lies in attracting students the 2023 way, whilst maintaining a decorous university feel. The way forward involves better aligning the requirements of students with the interests of commercial entities.

Photo: University of Malta

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