The American University of Malta should not be granted more public land until it shows it has enough students, Education Minister Evarist Bartolo has said.

Asked about his view on a controversial AUM application for a dormitory block, Mr Bartolo also insisted that the university does not need residential facilities to be able to attract more students, as it claims.

Mr Bartolo’s unequivocal position comes just days after he told Parliament that he was not satisfied with the AUM’s performance.

He repeated his position again on Friday, saying that opening a university was not an easy job so he preferred educational institutions which pledge to start modestly and promise a steady growth rather than promising big numbers from the outset. The AUM had promised to attract thousands of students within a few years.

'I prefer institutions which say they will start small': Education Minister Evarist Bartolo on the AUM. Video: Jonathan Borg

“I really wish the AUM does all that is possible to grow,” he said.

“But I am against them being given any more land before showing that they have the numbers.”

Mr Bartolo also shot down their link between growth and the provision of residential services.

“At the moment we have around 3,000 foreign students in Malta. 2,500 of them are studying in public institutions without residential facilities,” he said.

“Another educational institution (that) managed to attract 500 students to Malta to graduate in Masters in Business Administration does not have residential facilities, so AUM needs to increase their numbers to be able to justify growing in space too.”

The AUM’s contract with the government states that it must complete its entire project by 2025 and attract 4,000 students in the following four years, but it has so far struggled to attract mere dozens.

The Sadeen Group wants to build a large student accommodation block behind its Cospicua campus on a car park, as part of a pending planning application to expand its campus in Cottonera.

Fellow Labour MP Glenn Bedingfield has also criticised the AUM’s plans, saying the proposed dormitory was “too big for AUM’s dozen students”.

A majority of Planning Authority members indicated last month that they were against the university's proposal. A final hearing is scheduled to be held on November 21. 

This was not the first time that Mr Bartolo criticised the AUM.

Last year, he said that the AUM “should serve as a learning experience”, insisting that the track record of educational institutions should be scrutinised well before they set up shop.

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