Advert

University plan ‘puts pressure on Jerma site’

Campus could incorporate rehabilitated Fort Leonardo

Economy Minister Chris Cardona, Sadeen Group CEO Hani Salah and Education Minister Evarist Bartolo sign the heads of agreement. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Economy Minister Chris Cardona, Sadeen Group CEO Hani Salah and Education Minister Evarist Bartolo sign the heads of agreement. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Building a university in Marsascala would help put pressure on the owners of the former Jerma Palace Hotel to develop the dilapidated site, the Prime Minister said after signing an agreement with Jordanian investors.

Christened the American University of Malta, the campus will be built on a stretch of land close to the Żonqor area and could also incorporate a rehabilitated Fort Leonardo in the vicinity.

Following an environmental impact assessment, there will be an alternative site- selection exercise

The university, which will develop its academic programmes and policies in collaboration with the Chicago-based DePaul University, will receive its first group of students in September 2016 and, until the campus is completed, will at first be housed in Smart City.

The heads of agreement signed yesterday with the Sadeen Group is a non-binding document outlining the main issues relevant to a tentative (partnership or other) deal.

Joseph Muscat committed himself to creating a national, protected, natural park in Marsascala, which would include the foreshore and area adjacent to the zone earmarked for the university of between 450 and 500 tumoli of land.

The American University would partly finance the creation of the park, Dr Muscat said, adding that the university was aiming to open sport facilities to the local community and to help rehabilitate the former national pool.

Dr Muscat said he believed that, despite the competition, the University of Malta would start off with an advantage because it was already part of the island’s educational system, had an established tradition within the Mediterranean and also would continue to be financed by the government.

He planned to grant the University of Malta greater autonomy, proposing a “multiannual package” that would allow its budget allocation to be spread over a three-year period, rather than year-to-year, as was currently the case.

Asked about the feedback the government received after meeting local councils and environmental NGOs, Dr Muscat was keen to stress that the project enjoyed total support but admitted there were some concerns regarding the earmarked site.

Pressure will be exerted on the Jerma owners to do something with the land because it’s an eyesore

“The message we hope they got is that this is a process and that they were not roped in at the end of it. Today, we started off with the heads of agreement. Investors will be submitting an application. Following an environmental impact assessment, there will be an alternative site-selection exercise.

“Yesterday, there were a number of people who presented ideas, some of which we’ve had ourselves. We must weigh everything but we’re open to new ideas. We’re ready to be flexible, to shift, to downsize and to split the campus if need be.”

One of the ideas on the table was for part of the campus to be located within Fort Leonardo, which would downsize the expanse of new land required by the university. However, this would mean developing new infrastructure, including roads, Dr Muscat pointed out.

“We’re not talking highways here, but would we want such a road to pass through such an ecologically-sensitive site?”

Part of the campus could be located within Fort Leonardo. Photo: Darrin Zammit LupiPart of the campus could be located within Fort Leonardo. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Another issue was the fort’s accessibility to the public. Yet, regardless of the outcome, the government would be restoring the British fort, Dr Muscat said.

“There were other suggestions which are simply not feasible, such as that of Jerma Palace. It does not belong to the government; the government can’t just snatch away private land.

“Pressure will be exerted on the Jerma owners to do something with the land because it’s an eyesore. We’ve been encouraging them from time to time to develop the project. I’m aware that there were some sort of developments but the competent authorities did not think they were realistic.”

The Prime Minister also urged synergy with the other academic institutions, namely the University of Malta, Barts Medical School, the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology and the Institute for Tourism Studies.

The €115 million investment will result in a 1% injection to the GDP, attracting students with disposable incomes during the winter months as well as visiting parents.

Reactions to announcement

Welcoming the initiative, the Nationalist Party said the university should not be built in an outside development zone on public land.

“Public land should be used for public entities and not given to a foreign entrepreneur to make money off it,” education shadow minister Therese Comodini Cachia said. “If so, the government would be discriminating against those who invested in private land to build educational institutions.”

She also urged the government to ensure the sustainability of the University of Malta, Mcast and ITS while granting them more autonomy.

Labour MP Marlene Farrugia, who was elected from the south, commented online that although there was a genuine consultation procedure and it seemed common sense would prevail, it now appeared that “the development, land-devouring lobby has the upper hand again”.

She said she was still hoping the Prime Minister would find the strength to stand up to them and steer the project in the right direction.

Ms Farrugia deemed it unacceptable tricking people into thinking they were getting something when they were in fact being blatantly robbed of priceless natural heritage they were enjoying freely and completely.

While welcoming the project, NGOs strongly objected to taking up virgin ODZ land that occupied one per cent of Malta’s total arable land.

“With a density of 33 per cent of built-up land versus open land, Malta cannot afford to lose any more of its open spaces, which would impact the long-term social and physical well-being of this country,” they said.

They urged DePaul University and the local authorities to consider the many historic forts in the Kalkara-Żonqor area, which would prompt their restoration and reuse.

The Malta Developers’ Association welcomed the project, adding that an alternative site that was not as pristine should be found.

DePaul University

The proposed American University of Malta, which will develop its academic programmes and policies in collaboration with the Chicago-based DePaul University, will host about 4,000 students, mainly from the Middle East, the Gulf region, North Africa and Europe.

DePaul University is a private university in Chicago founded by the Vincentians in 1898. It is the largest Catholic university and the 13th largest private university in the US.

The idea of an American university outside the US has been successfully implemented in Paris, Cairo and Beirut, among others.

Like the University of Malta, DePaul is not listed in the World University Rankings of the top 500 universities. However, it is recognised as one of the top 100 American universities for its success in granting bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees to students from diverse multicultural backgrounds.

The US News and World Report ranks it among the top 10 American universities for the percentage of its students who complete one or more internships.

Its Malta campus will be split into five colleges: health sciences, business and management, engineering, communication and information technology, and art and education.

Advert
Comments not loading? We recommend using Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox with javascript turned on.
Comments powered by Disqus  
Advert
Advert