The American University of Malta’s inaugural year has proven to quite a torrid one, with only a handful of students enrolling, several lecturers getting their sack, and the government warning it will not be able to build a campus in Zonqor Point, Marsascala unless it ups its game. Smelling blood, the Opposition tabled a parliamentary motion, demanding the government seize Zonqor Point from the university’s owners, but the attempt failed to pass a vote tonight.
This is how the debate went in a nutshell.
1. Joseph Muscat pokes fun at Simon Busuttil’s new job
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat went off track at the end of his speech, by revealing that former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil got a job lecturing at the University of Malta.
“Sometimes I get the impression that some people believe the government runs the AUM, even though it is a purely private institution just like the University of Malta is. In fact, I just found out that Simon Busuttil is going to start teaching there. I wonder if some people are now going to say that he was appointed through a corrupt practice or a direct order or I don’t know what. Come off it!”
2. Education minister misses crucial point on AUM vetting
Education minister Evarist Bartolo said he realises the danger of phony universities and degree mills, and assured the public he would not have endorsed the AUM unless he was convinced it was a completely legitimate enterprise. In fact, Bartolo pointed out, the AUM’s lecturers and courses have all been analysed and vetted by the National Commission for Further and Higher Education (NCFHE).
What he didn’t explain is how the NCFHE didn’t realise that one of the AUM’s lecturers had a history plagiarsing film critics and that another could very well have lied about having a marketing PhD from Oxford. Both cases were exposed by Lovin Malta using only the powers of Google.
3. Adrian Delia accused of messing up his facts
Opposition leader Adrian Delia faced accusations from Joseph Muscat and other Labour MPs that he had messed up his facts when speaking about the AUM’s student numbers. This is because Delia said the AUM has so far only attracted 15 students when the contract stipulates it should attract 4,000.
The contract technically doesn’t oblige AUM to start attracting students until September 2018 and the 4,000 student target doesn’t kick in until 2025. Although Delia didn’t specifically say the AUM should have 4,000 students at this stage, the government MPs pounced on this statement to accuse him of messing up his facts.
Delia also said the government granted 90,000m2 of land to AUM, but was reminded Muscat and his MPs that the footprint had since been slashed to 31,000m2.
4. Shadow education minister makes a lame Pink Floyd joke
Shadow education minister Clyde Puli’s attempt at a joke at Labour MP Alex Muscat’s expense fell embarrassingly flat.
“I know it’s sexy to refer to them as Sadeen Education, but it would have been more appropriate to refer to them as ‘We Don’t Need Your Education’ and perhaps you could then add the rest of the Pink Floyd song, and say ‘it’s just another brick in the wall’ because the only thing that will remain of Zonqor is the government’s hard head (ras taż-żonqor).
5. Environment minister defends construction on ODZ land
Environment minister Jose Herrera had promised to “rock the boat” on environmental issues, but he toed the government line completely tonight – defending the impending construction of Zonqor Point by arguing that the site was full of litter and that greening efforts are ongoing elsewhere…
6. Chris Agius falls to his knees
Parliamentary secretary Chris Agius had gushing praise for AUM, claiming it had breathed the breath of life into his hometown of Bormla.
“Ask Bormla’s shop-owners and property owners how much demand has shot up since the construction of AUM….even though it has only just started operating, the feel-good factor is already evident,” he said. “Nobody wanted to have anything to do with Bormla or to even visit the town, but it has now become an attraction – largely due to the AUM. As a Bormla citizen, I would like to genuinely thank the AUM for helping this forgotten town and for helping social and sport NGOs of the town.”
7. Jason Azzopardi keeps reminding us AUM is owned by foreigners
Shadow environment minister Jason Azzopardi over-emphasised that AUM’s Jordanian owners are ‘foreigners’ (barranin), repeating that word no less than five times in his brief speech.