Watchdog fines Sadeen for marketing unlicensed ‘university’

‘American Institute of Malta not a university’, higher education commission says after fining Sadeen Educational for ignoring instruction to desist from using ‘university’ logo

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’

The Jordanian company granted public land at Marsaskala and Bormla to develop its own private university has ignored – twice – judicial letters from the National Commission for Further and Higher Education (NCFHE) calling upon it to remove the word ‘university’ from its logo, since it is not licensed as one.

Sadeen Education Investment Ltd, the company established in Malta by the Sadeen Group to develop the American University of Malta, is only licensed to carry out the activities of a higher education institution since it does not have enough learning programmes for a university licence.

Originally unveiled by the Labour administration as a flagship project for the south, the controversial decision to grant land at Zonqor Point without public tender was met with a 3,000-strong protest in Valletta.

Now, Sadeen is ignoring the educational watchdog by retaining the ‘U’ in its ‘AUM’ logo, which it promotes on its own website

On 11 March, action was taken with a judicial letter to Sadeen, sent in accordance with laws that prohibit licensed higher education institutions from using the word “university” in any of the media or their advertising literature.

An NCFHE spokesperson said using the word university was “misleading. The American Institute of Malta is not a University.”

Another official notification imposing an administrative penalty was sent to Sadeen Education Investment on 18 March.

“In both instances, no communication was received from Sadeen Education Investment Ltd. In the coming days, in line with Chapter 12 of the Laws of Malta, the NCFHE shall be taking further steps to secure settlement of such administrative penalty,” the spokesperson said, suggesting legal action for the payment of the fine.

The NCFHE said it was not in a position to divulge the amount of the penalty it had imposed.

Under education laws, licensees who breach licensing rules are liable to an administrative fine not exceeding €4,000 and an additional penalty of not more than €116 for each day during which the offence continues.

In 2015 the Labour government announced with much fanfare that Sadeen would build an ‘American University of Malta’ over a campus stretching across 90,000 square metres of virgin land. The area was downscaled to 18,000 square metres and part of the proposed campus relocated to the Bormla docks after a national protest against the use of virgin land, led by the fledgling Front Harsien ODZ.

The name “American University of…” is best known in the cases of Beirut and Cairo, which for more than a century signified an American style of education in prestigious colleges. 

The Sadeen Group is a construction firm with interests in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, but in Malta it has been represented by Canadian lawyer Thaer Mukbel and has a registered address at the headquarters of mid-tier accountancy firm RSM International.

Sadeen’s mark of quality so far has been to pay DePaul University of Chicago to provide curricular materials for 10 degree programmes.

NCFHE chairman Martin Scicluna had to fend off criticism from the Opposition for his own defence of a controversial legal notice that relaxed the onerous conditions for educational institutions to be classified as universities, and which was published days after the government signed its agreement with Sadeen.

The rules allow the NCFHE to invoke the “national interest” as one of several criteria for the legal recognition of an educational institute as a university. The minimum fields for programmes leading to higher diplomas, Bachelors’ and Masters’ degrees, were also reduced from six to four; and the requirement for universities to have at least four fields in which doctorate programmes are offered, was removed.

The law was tweaked three days after a heads of agreement was signed with Sadeen, forcing education minister Evarist Bartolo to deny that the rules were introduced to appease the Jordanians. 

Sadeen plans to attract 4,000 students with an annual intake of 1,000 freshers from the Middle East, the Gulf region, North Africa as well as Europe. Their website for ‘AUM’ still claims its university building will be spread over 90,000 square metres, the original site earmarked for the project.

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