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No university licence for Sadeen, one month before 'first student intake'

Renovations are under way for the AUM campus at Dock 1, Cospicua. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Renovations are under way for the AUM campus at Dock 1, Cospicua. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

No licence has yet been issued for an American University of Malta, making it unlikely the Sadeen Group will start educational operations next month.

Godfrey Vella, chairman of the National Commission for Further and Higher Education, has confirmed that “no licence has been issued to the Sadeen Group to set up a university”.

It has been almost three months since the NCFHE offered the Jordanian company a university licence subject to strict educational and financial conditions.

The onus is on the company to accept the conditions, which the commission insists are not negotiable despite Sadeen telling this newspaper in July it wanted to seek a compromise. No one from the Sadeen Group was available for comment yesterday.

Dr Vella did not say whether any meetings were held with Sadeen after the conditions were made public. “The NCFHE board will meet next week, after which we could be in a position to provide further input,” he said.

According to the land transfer contract approved by Parliament in a marathon session last December, the Sadeen Group should start “temporary operations with the first intake of students from the Bormla site by not later” than October 31.

This condition, however, is subject to AUM obtaining all the required permits and authorisations “within reasonable timeframes”, leaving open to interpretation whether missing the October deadline would constitute a breach of contract. The company has no authorisation yet to operate a university.

Moreover, the Planning Authority only approved the permit for the conversion of the Dock 1 buildings in Cospicua into an educational institution, including the construction of a new floor, in August.

However, AUM could still start operations in an alternative location approved by the educational authorities.

AUM is expected to have campuses in Cospicua and Marsascala for 4,000 students, and it is contractually bound to finish the project – including the setting up of all colleges – in six years.

The AUM’s website says on its home page that Sadeen Education Investment Ltd is awaiting licensing and accreditation by the NCFHE to operate the university.

Sadeen was reprimanded by the NCFHE earlier this year for using the university label in its marketing, since it had not yet obtained the relevant licence.

The project was first announced by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in May 2015. It caused controversy, since the first-choice site was Żonqor Point in Marsascala, with plans to have the campus sprawl across 90,000 square metres of land in an outside development zone.

Plans were subsequently changed to split the campus between Dock 1 in Cospicua and a reduced footprint in Żonqor Point, which saw the ODZ area shrink to 18,000 square metres.

The land transfer contract for both sites was approved on December 15 after an all-night parliamentary debate. The Opposition voted against the plans.

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