Min­is­ter would rather see AUM ‘start small and grow grad­u­ally’

Malta Independent - - NEWS - He­lena Grech

■ Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Evarist Bar­tolo would rather see the Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity of Malta (AUM) “start small and grow grad­u­ally,” adding that this was not a “garage op­er­a­tion.”

He was field­ing ques­tions from sev­eral Op­po­si­tion MPs yes­ter­day evening in Par­lia­ment after the Times of Malta re­ported on Sun­day that only 15 stu­dents had en­rolled with AUM and the uni­ver­sity was al­ready sack­ing staff. Prime Min­is­ter Joseph Mus­cat had pre­vi­ously told the press that the uni­ver­sity, which has con­tro­ver­sially been given a prime piece of real es­tate in Żon­qor, Marsas­cala, would have around a thou­sand stu­dents in its first year, ris­ing to around 4,000.

“I would be very skep­ti­cal had they come here promis­ing to start with thou­sands of stu­dents. Th­ese things, in­clud­ing the build­ing of a good rep­u­ta­tion, take time,” he told Par­lia­ment.

Bar­tolo cau­tioned that the con­tro­ver­sial AUM must meet its con­trac­tual obli­ga­tions, fail­ing which, there would be “prob­lems.”

He stressed that he is not a spokesper­son for the AUM, adding that in­ter­nal man­age­ment is up to them. He re­peat­edly said that the govern­ment’s role in all this is the “in­ter­sec­tion” be­tween state ed­u­ca­tion en­ti­ties and the uni­ver­sity’s con­trac­tual obli­ga­tions.

Bar­tolo in­sisted that AUM is led by a very se­ri­ous per­son and that the teach­ing staff are also screened by the qual­i­fi­ca­tions author­ity.

PN MP Her­mann Schi­avone asked the min­is­ter whether lec­tures had started. “Is it true that there are only 15 stu­dents? Is it true that staff are be­ing fired?” he asked. Bar­tolo asked the PN MP to put his ques­tions in writ­ing.

PN deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami said the min­is­ter should say whether it was true that staff were be­ing sacked. Bar­tolo said he knew of one per­son whose con­tract had been ter­mi­nated but did not want to go into de­tail be­cause of “hu­man­i­tar­ian” rea­sons.

Schi­avone then asked whether the ren­o­va­tion of the AUM cam­pus at Dock 1 in Cospicua was paid for through tax­payer money. Bar­tolo urged him to sub­mit such a ques­tion to the rel­e­vant min­is­ter, after say­ing that tax­payer money pays for the de­vel­op­ment of Malta.

In 2014, Prime Min­is­ter Joseph Mus­cat’s govern­ment an­nounced that vir­gin land in Żon­qor would be taken up by the AUM, which is owned by a Jor­da­nian com­pany. This led to en­vi­ron­men­tal protests due to the take-up of pre­cious ODZ land.

Mus­cat had then an­nounced that a com­pro­mise had been reached, with a smaller area be­ing taken up in Żon­qor, as well as the di­lap­i­dated build­ings along Cospicua’s Dock 1.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, those works have fallen be­hind sched­ule.

Leader of the Op­po­si­tion Adrian Delia asked if the govern­ment would look at the pos­si­bil­ity of bring­ing in an ed­u­ca­tional fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion to make use of the fa­cil­i­ties should AUM not meet its obli­ga­tions. This could be the plan as part of the wider push to make Malta a cen­tre for ter­tiary-level ed­u­ca­tion.

Bar­tolo said that espe­cially within the con­text of Brexit, there are “those wish­ing to stay in the Euro­pean ed­u­ca­tional cam­pus and are in­ter­ested in Malta but strug­gle due to a lack of fa­cil­i­ties to op­er­ate out of. We could de­velop this ser­vice but we need to be re­spon­si­ble, and we must not let any­body think they can get a free ride in Malta by ac­quir­ing a li­cence and fail­ing to of­fer a pro­fes­sional ser­vice.”

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