[WATCH] Updated | AUM Żonqor project will start once Bormla campus is full - Joseph Muscat

The Prime Minister is confident AUM will meet its target of recruiting 4,000 students as he inaugurates the Bormla campus

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was given a tour of AUM's Bormla campus by the owner of Sadeen Education, Hani Salah (left)
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was given a tour of AUM's Bormla campus by the owner of Sadeen Education, Hani Salah (left)
Prime Minister is confident AUM will recruit 4,000 students by the contractual deadline

A campus in Żonqor for the American University of Malta is still on the table but will only go ahead once the Bormla campus is full of students, the Prime Minister said.

Joseph Muscat said he was confident AUM would be meeting its target of recruiting a minimum of 4,000 students five years after its 2025 agreed completion date.

Muscat was fielding questions from journalists following the university's inauguration ceremony on Friday.

He said the Bormla campus was serving as a testing base and pilot project for the university, and that he was certain it would be recruiting sufficient students.

The project has been dogged by very low recruitment of students since opening its doors in September 2017. The institution was certified as a university by the Maltese education authorities and granted a licence against strict conditions.

The AUM Bormla campus
The AUM Bormla campus

The government had passed on the historic buildings inside Dock One in Bormla and a tract of seafront land at Żonqor in Marsaskala to the Jordanian company behind the university to develop into two campuses.

Asked by MaltaToday whether the government had verified if AUM had been meeting all its contractual obligations, Muscat responded that it had.

"The contract binds AUM to recruit 4,000 students five years after its completion, and they are well ahead. This is a pilot project - a trial run. It started with 15 students, and now there are almost 100. The target completion date is still six years away, and after that they have another five years,” Muscat said.

Muscat also underlined that since the target markets of the university are the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, in order for AUM to be formally recognised by the governments of those countries, the first group of students had to graduate.

"Once the first group of students graduate and AUM is formally recognised, recruitment will increase substantially," he said.

He added that the contract clearly stipulated that if recruitment targets are not reached, the building it occupies in Bormla would be returned to the government. "But I am confident AUM will reach those targets."

Not true that the university isn’t American - Muscat

Addressing the university’s inauguration ceremony earlier, Muscat said it was “a pity that false claims were made about the university investment”.

He said the university had since its inception experienced a five-fold increase in students - who currently hail from 25 different countries - and that it had been respecting its obligations related to recruitment numbers.

“Every startup university builds its numbers gradually, as it establishes itself in a new country,” he said.

Those who claimed that there was nothing American about the university were not being factual, he emphasised. “The fact is the curriculum is American and all the standards are set by an American institutions.”

Acknowledging that the university’s main investor - Sadeen Education owner Hani Salah - was from Jordan, Muscat said that the government had “no problem with him being Jordanian”.

“Malta is open for business with everyone across the world,” he said.

AUM president Lewis N Walker, also taking the podium, said the university “already has nearly 100 students studying during the spring semester.”

By autumn, another intake was expected he said, adding that new degree programmes would be established, and there would be a recruitment exercise which would see the number of academic staff double.

Anwar Al-Sadi, a business administration student studying at the university, said the university was doing well and now had “so many more students”.

She spoke of a sense of a “family-like community” at the university, and a good variety of courses which were on offer.

“We have been taught how to think, not what to think,” she said, adding that she was “very proud to be one of the pioneering students who would get to build and watch AUM grow”.