Cheap land, Jordanian builders, and Labour’s promise to the south

The Sadeen Group are being regaled with a tract of land in ‘outside development zones’, because ODZ land used for agriculture has a much lower value than that allocated for development.

Members of the Sadeen Group look on as the Prime Minister addresses the press after the signing of a heads of agreement for the construction of the ‘American University of Malta’
Members of the Sadeen Group look on as the Prime Minister addresses the press after the signing of a heads of agreement for the construction of the ‘American University of Malta’

A new land-grab is at hand.

In the south, 90,000 square metres of virgin, agricultural land is being made available to a Jordanian group of contractors and real estate developers who will for the first time ever, build a university campus for 4,000 paying students.

The Sadeen Group are being regaled with a tract of land in ‘outside development zones’, because ODZ land used for agriculture has a much lower value than that allocated for development.

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The sales pitch is to dub the new €115 million campus ‘American University’, evoking associations with the universities in Cairo and Beirut, but Sadeen’s university is neither connected to the decades-old institutions, nor is it part of any brand.

Even the ‘AUM’ logo with the familiar Maltese sentinel of yore borrows the exact colours of Washington DC’s American University.

 

 

The promo ad on YouTube features Maltese actors putting on ‘exotic’ accents, and also sells the impression that Sadeen is connected with the “concept of the American University” by featuring a brief glimpse of the various ‘American Universities’ in Cairo, Beirut, Paris, Sharjah, Rome, Athens, Central Asia, Kuwait, and Nigeria.

Save for their for-profit model, there is no common ownership between the universities, except for the way they style their educational programmes under the ‘American’ tag.

And the Sadeen Group has no background in educational management: it is primarily a construction firm that has provided housing, hotels, travel and rental services, and real estate development in Jordan and the Gulf area. It also builds schools across the region.

But it registered its Sadeen Educational Investments company in Malta way back in June 2014, which means the project has been in the offing for the past year, and they also have interests in construction for 'rehabilitation' services.

With a curriculum carved out by Chicago’s DePaul University – ranked 110 by US News and 340 in a university ranking by Forbes – Sadeen are looking for a ‘cheap’ piece of land to build their university, branded ‘American’ as a way of attracting well-off families to finance their children’s education.

They have found the full cooperation of the Maltese government. Earlier this week, MaltaToday confirmed that the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s chief executive officer, Johann Buttigieg, and his ‘coordination unit’ were tasked with identifying the site for the Sadeen Group. MEPA falls directly under the Office of the Prime Minister, through parliamentary secretary for planning Michael Falzon.

MEPA said the area selected had to be in the south – ostensibly by political decision – owned by the government, not in a protected area, and serviced well by roads and energy infrastructure. The only area found that fitted the bill was that off Zonqor point, Marsaskala, a parcel of land 90% owned by the state.

Sadeen has yet to present a project description statement and prepare an environmental impact assessment to MEPA, putting the proposed university through Malta’s often questionable planning process.

On its part DePaul, of Chicago, said it has no financial stake in AUM, and no agreement to provide DePaul faculty or staff to AUM. “DePaul will not be involved in hiring faculty or staff for AUM and will not be involved in AUM operations.”

Sadeen contracted DePaul to provide initial curriculum material, in order for Sadeen to receive a licence to operate the university. “We are willing to continue collaboration and cooperation with Sadeen and the American University, by providing consultative academic support to the project. No agreement in this direction has been signed yet, but one is under negotiation.”

A new ‘smart city’

As expected, the committal of such a large tract of Maltese countryside and coastline to the service of Jordanian speculators has incensed the environment lobby.

The Labour government will spare no thought for the “disused agricultural” land in the area: it wants AUM to generate 400 jobs for the south and put money in local businesses.

Such state-sponsored projects by the private sector are never clear-cut. In 2006, the Nationalist government announced that a subsidiary of Dubai ruler Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s business empire, Tecom, wanted to create an offshoot of its Smart City in Malta – a futuristic IT village that would attract big names to the island.

Behind the deal was Tecom’s intention to acquire former state telecoms company Maltacom, today renamed Go plc, with its portfolio of €50 million in properties formerly belonging to the Telemalta Corporation.

Smart City Malta was set to create 5,600 new jobs as the “core service hub” of the island, under pain of an annual €920,000 fine. The jobs never materialised, and neither was Tecom fined for breaching this condition. The project has not even been finalised. 

As MaltaToday revealed soon after, only 19% of the project’s footprint was intended for information and communication technology purposes – the raison d’être of the project – while 20% was for real estate.

Opposition leader Alfred Sant had warned Smart City would “serve to screen the transactions of luxury apartment entrepreneurs from abroad”, and that the government had camouflaged this intention by “boasting about the thousands of jobs in IT” that it would create.

Fast-tracked through MEPA, local plans for the Ricasoli area were amended to allow residential, hotel and commercial development.

Tecom was offered the former industrial area, the size of 40 football grounds, for a ground rent of €150,000 a year, increasing by 5% every five years. Tecom said it would spend €24 million on landscaping, leaving 33% of the project development-free, while half of the project went into real estate and commercial development. 

Even though building Smart City would produce 651,119 cubic metres of construction waste, the greatest generator of waste in Maltese history, MEPA approved the project in October 2008, just two months after the environment impact assessment was issued for public consultation – a record time for any project of such a dimension.

United schools of America

The various institutions dubbed ‘American University’, and their ownership

American University of Beirut [Lebanon]

Founded
1866

Students over 8,000
Originally the Syrian Protestant College, the regents at the University of the State of New York changed the name of the institution to the American University of Beirut in 1920.

American University of Cairo [Eygpt]

Founded
1919
Students over 6,500

Founded by a Protestant mission sponsored by the United Presbyterian Church of North America, today enjoying accreditation from the United States’ Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, its trustees include American venture capitalists and corporate leaders.

American University in Dubai [UAE]

Founded
1955

Students over 3,000

AUD is accredited by the United States’ Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and serves UAE nationals and international students from all over the world with an American-style education.

American University of Rome [Italy]

Founded
1969
Students 500

Liberal arts college accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the school was created by American journalist David Conlin and Italian George Tesoro, who left Italy in protest at Mussolini’s fascist regime, incorporated the college in Washington DC with its academic headquarters located in Rome.

American University of Paris [France]

Founded
1962

Students 1,000

Not-for-profit liberal arts college incorporated in Delaware, USA, founded by Lloyd DeLamater, a 40-year old US Foreign Service officer.

American University of Sharjah [UAE]

Founded
1997
Students over 5,000

Not-for-profit established by Sharjah ruler Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qassimi, it is accredited in the USA by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

Other ‘American Universities’

American University of Afghanistan • American University of Antigua College of Medicine • American University of Armenia • American University of Asia • American University of Bosnia and Herzegovina • American University in Bulgaria • American University of the Caribbean • American University of the Caribbean (Haiti) • American University of Central Asia, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan • American University of Iraq • American University in Kosovo, part of the Rochester Institute of Technology • American University of Kuwait • American University in London American University of London • American University of Madaba • American University (Nicaragua) • American University of Paris • American University of Phnom Penh • American University of Puerto Rico • American University of Rome American University of Science and Technology, Beirut, Lebanon • American University of Technology, Byblos, Lebanon

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