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