The Malta Independent 6 December 2022, Tuesday
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AUM’s red carpet, Part 4: A warning to the PM, and an extreme case of revolving doors

Neil Camilleri & Albert Galea Sunday, 17 July 2022, 08:30 Last update: about 6 months ago

• Government promised to create schemes to benefit Jordanian investors • OPM and AUM discussed use of Casino di Venezia, Rialto by AUM • Promises to help university with planning permits, residency visas for students • Castille took care of AUM’s damage control after ‘media attacks’ • Government pledged to intervene to help AUM reach promised student levels • Revolving doors: OPM official involved in deal moved to NCFHE, and later to AUM • AUM ‘not a bona fide institution’, sacked lecturer had told PM Muscat

A number of side agreements which the Muscat administration had signed with the owners of the American University of Malta Sadeen Group shed new light on how the government rolled out the red carpet for the failing institution.

The newly leaked documents, seen by The Malta Independent on Sunday, show how the government pledged to help the struggling university on everything from obtaining planning permits, to sending it students so that it would be able to reach its full capacity.

The documents also show that the government and AUM were discussing the possibility of the use of the Rialto building in Cospicua, which is owned by the Labour Party, and also the Casino di Venezia in Vittoriosa.

Furthermore, Castille was taking care of AUM’s damage control, even writing an ‘open letter’ for Sadeen to use in the face of ‘media attacks.’

Email correspondence show the close ties between Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri and other OPM officials, Adrian Hillman, who was appointed by Muscat to sit on AUM’s board of trustees as the government’s representatives, and the Jordanian nationals behind the project.

AUM was in the news recently after the government filed a Parliamentary resolution to take back the land it had given to AUM in Zonqor in 2015. This came after the university failed to reach its student targets and after The Malta Independent on Sunday revealed that it was continuing to make heavy financial losses.

AUM has now been given a similarly sized tract of land at Smart City in Kalkara.

 

A warning to the Prime Minister

In an email sent to Muscat on 26 February, sacked AUM lecturer Dawn Adrienne Saliba warned about several shortcomings at the institution.

“As you know, AUM fired its entire instructional facility last January – without cause, without ever warning us that our jobs were at risk, without adequate notice, and after we had uprooter our entire lives to move to another country.”

“I honestly believe that AUM is lying to you and the rest of Malta when it presents an image that it is an ethical and bona fide educational institution – it really isn’t.”

Furthermore, in a letter sent to the NCFHE and which she sent to the PM, Saliba warned that AUM was placing its students’ wellbeing at risk. “There was no proper collection of student emergency information, no way to share information in the event of an emergency, nor was there any procedure in place as to how to deal with students at risk. The school is woefully unprepared regarding helping students in the event of any physical or psychological catastrophes.”

“In terms of safety, the building itself has many dangerous issues – everything from windows in the classroom breaking to cables jutting out of the floor, to flooding, to horrible smells in the upstairs classroom. There is no entry for the disabled.” She also spoke of ‘unsafe’ dormitories: “One of the proposed rooms literally had a hotplate for a cooker connected with an extension cord that round out of a window.”

She also spoke about money collected from students for ‘special activities’ that never appeared, and how the university was so short of a budget that the provost would “literally spend hundreds out of his own pocket to provide dinner for students at orientation.”

“In terms of education, AUM never conducted any kind of assessment of their teachers whatsoever. Our classes were never observed, and we never had any meeting regarding the best educational practices. Worse, the administration was fraudulent in claiming that they were on the path towards American accreditation. When I contacted NEASC, I was told that AUM had never submitted the proper paperwork and had only made a couple of general inquiries.”

Saliba sent the email to Muscat’s official email address. Muscat then forwarded it to his personal assistant, Ray Barbara, however using his personal email address – [email protected] He asked Barbara to print it but whether any action was taken remains unknown. Three months later, Saliba was among five lecturers who sued the AUM.

 

AUM and the NCFHE

It is not known whether the NCFHE ever took any action against the AUM, particularly after received Dawn Saliba’s letter in February 2018, but what is known is that two of the Council’s members in that period were actually employed by AUM the following year.

The NCFHE’s Head of Quality Assurance from 2016 Manuel Vella Rago joined AUM’s staff as an Assistant Professor of Philosophy in July 2019, as did the council’s Head of Accreditation and Validation Audrey Abela – who also had been a part of the NCFHE since 2016, and who joined as Manager of the Teaching and Learning Centre.

Prior to working with the NCFHE, Abela worked with the Education Ministry in Malta and then Office of the Prime Minister, where she worked within the Strategy and Implementation Department, and the People and Standards Departments.

Both Vella Rago and Abela remained at AUM until February 2021, at which point they left to take up different jobs elsewhere in the private sector.


Read the full story, published in four parts:

AUM’s red carpet, Part 1: Government pledges students, schemes and ‘other assistance’

AUM’s red carpet, Part 2: OPM helped university fight off ‘media attacks’

AUM’s red carpet, Part 3: OPM, university discussed Casino di Venezia, Rialto 

 

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