The Malta Independent 21 September 2019, Saturday

TMID Editorial: AUM - A dozen students don’t need a dorm, let alone Zonqor

Wednesday, 21 August 2019, 10:16 Last update: about 1 month ago

We have, since its inception some years ago, expressed our doubts about the so-called American University of Malta and its ability to attract more than a few dozen students.

Now, one of the leading voices in favour of the university is saying pretty much the same thing as us. Oh, how things have changed.

The AUM project proved to be controversial from day one because the government, with much pomp and hype, had announced that a big foreign investment company had decided to build an American-style university campus in Malta.

AUM needed a huge tract of land on which they would build their sprawling campus – enough to accommodate some 4,000 students. The government’s initial choice of location was at Zonqor Point in Marsascala, where a huge parcel of ODZ land would be given to the Jordanian investors to build their campus.

After the public outcry (and a few protests), the government announced that the Zonqor campus would be scaled down and that AUM would be given another site at Cospicua’s Dock 1. The first phase of the project would, in fact, take place here, with AUM embarking on renovating derelict buildings dating back to the Knights and British eras.

When, in February 2018, two editors from this newsroom were invited to tour the campus, the lack of students was immediately apparent. It was already known then that the fledgling university was struggling to attract staff and students, but the empty corridors and classrooms further amplified this fact.

Yet, despite the dismal enrolment rate, AUM still applied to renovate what is known as the Knights building, as well as to build an administrative block and to construct a huge dormitory on a site currently used as a car park by Senglea and Cospicua residents. The planning applications are due to be decided next month.

Labour MP Glenn Bedingfield, who hails from the district and serves as the executive coordinator of the Cottonera Rehabilitation Committee, has come out against the proposals, particularly the dormitory, saying that it is “too big for AUM’s dozen students.”

Bedingfield’s statement was somewhat unexpected – besides being a Labour MP and a vocal defender of everything done by this administration, he is also one of the Prime Minister’s closest friends. He was also one of the people who campaigned most for the project, arguing at the time that AUM would help regenerate the area and boost business.

The MP had said the project would be beneficial for the community. Now he is saying the opposite – that residents do not want this monstrosity in their back yard. He has, in fact, proposed other sites where the dormitory could be built.

The reasons behind Bedingfield’s sudden change of heart are yet to be explained, especially since he had been lauding the project until recently. Could it be that the government is pushing him to speak against the project it had previously boasted so much about?

Whatever the case, his reasoning this time is right. A monstrous building that would ruin Senglea’s skyline for the benefit of a handful of students should not even be considered. It should not even be permitted if AUM had hundreds of students, let alone a “dozen.”

When deciding on this application next month, the PA board members ought to keep in mind that, should they allow this behemoth to be built, it will be built for nothing. There is no real demand for it and the building would likely remain empty for many years to come.

At this juncture, the government should also revisit the agreement it has with Sadeen on the Zonqor land and, given the low student level, it should consider giving this area back to the people.

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