American University: Better a slow but steady start, minister says

Education minister Evarist Bartolo said that despite a lower student intake, the controversial project had started, and that the company was obliged to make it work

A render of the proposed AUM campus at Zonqor Point, Marsaskala
A render of the proposed AUM campus at Zonqor Point, Marsaskala

Education minister Evarist Bartolo said this evening that he preferred educational institutions that “start with a few students” and build up slowly. He said that the fact that some students had enrolled in courses at the Univeristy meant the project had in fact started and that the company behind the university would be sticking to the obligations laid out in the agreement signed with the Maltese government.

Replying to a series of supplementary questions in parliament on media reports about the university, Bartolo emphasised that the Government was monitoring progress with the project, while insisting that the investors had been required to adhere to strict standards in order to obtain a license.

“We are talking about a tertiary education project here, not a an operation in a garage,” said the minister, pointing out that the university needed time before it could develop a reputation and corporate identity, that would allow it to grow as an institution.

He said that the standards that had been requested by local authorities had shown the investors that it would be better to start out smaller.

“Beyond what we wish for, it is better for things this way,” he said, when it was pointed out that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had said the university planned to have up to 1,000 students in its first year.

Opposition MP Hermann Schiavone asked Bartolo whether he could confirm that there were so far 15 students enrolled in courses at the university, and that the AUM had fired some of its academic staff due to the small number of students enrolled.

Bartolo said he did not have exact figures but would be willing to answer any parliamentary questions made to him in writing.

Pressed by Opposition MP Beppe Fenech Adami to confirm that several employees had been laid-off by the university, Bartolo said he was only aware of one dismissal from the university which he did not wish to discuss for “humanitarian reasons”.

Responding to yet another Opposition MP, this time Ryan Callus, Bartolo also said that while he was only responsible for the aspects of the project concerning its regulation as a tertiary education institution.

Finally, leader of the Opposition Adrian Delia, asked Bartolo, given that the Government had sold the project to the nation as the country’s attempt of developing a private tertiary education sector, whether there were any other educational institutions that were being considered.

Bartolo said that many education institutions in the United Kingdom, including a number of prestigious entities, were looking to remain present within the EU after Brexit. He said that one of the biggest problems in this regard was that Malta could not provide these institutions with a campus to operate out of.

“I am sure that if we act diligently, we will have no problems developing this sector,” he said. “We need to make sure nobody can get a free ride here when applying for licenses to operate. We must make it clear that those wanting to operate here must do so within the our strict regulatory framework.”

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