The government of Malta has just announced a €115 million foreign direct investment for the construction of a new educational facility, the creatively dubbed American University of Malta. This project will be signed by Jordanian investors tomorrow (Tuesday 5th May 2015) and will be backed by DePaul University of Chicago. Despite the fact that projects of such magnitude are a welcome sight, it will end up consuming 9 hectares of arable land and public natural space to the detriment of the Maltese population.
I am finding such a project as being a bit too contentious for my own liking. Firstly, while the rationale behind such a project appears to be sensible, it is quite curious that the news story broke on Sunday and revealed that the deal will be signed within two days. We have here yet another case of the Maltese government feeding information to the public on a major project out of mere courtesy. Once again, the Maltese public is a spectator when it comes to decisions that relate directly to their environment. However, a public consultation will be held at some point, most probably advertised in some corner of a Sunday newspaper in a font size 8 advert.
Is this project sustainable?
Even though the government is projecting a 1% increase in Malta’s GDP as a result of this investment, I do not believe it will be a contribute drastically to Malta’s economy. We are told that 400 jobs will be created – fantastic news if you happen to work in academia or administration, but Maltese academics have long been making headway in their respective fields by working at foreign universities.
We are told that 4,000 international students will be living in the area – they will have dormitories and will most probably also have other facilities on campus, so they will not be contributing much to the economy of the ‘south’. We are also told that up to four percent of the student population are expected to be Maltese – the number of Maltese students leaving the island for their first and post graduate degree is increasing annually, so this new opportunity will not drastically change the educational landscape of Malta (thank the Lord for EU membership).
Here is an idea for you – instead of selling off public land to foreigners without letting the rest of us whiny taxpayers know, how about investing in a new sector to boost the Maltese economy and also attract talented professionals to our country? Does everything in Malta need to involve cement and heavy machinery to be classified as being a major economic investment?
But above all, the following takes the award for stupidest comment of the project, courtesy of Hani Salah, the Jordanian investor and chairman of the Sadeen Group:
“When families come they will stay in hotels, students will be spending money here. And this besides the direct jobs in construction and finishing”
There you have it. The government will most definitely be building hotels along the Zonqor point coastline to accommodate these parents, since Malta only has 15 five-star hotes, 45 four-star hotels, 46 three-star hotels, over 80 apart hotels, guest houses and hostels, and requires much more accommodation facilities (#firstworldproblems).
Furthermore, isn’t it a bit ironic that the government wants to build a new university in Malta, when the current university requires so much more investment to reach acceptable European standards? I am obviously not referring to the new IT department, but the Faculties of Science, Arts and Medicine leave much to be desired. To be fair, I do have very fond memories of leaking and decrepit wooden bench tables during my chemistry and biology experiments, and not to mention the daily parking challenge. I wonder what KSU and Insite have to say about this project?
But while I have to accept the reality that the Maltese government would much rather line its coffers than allow its constituents to enjoy public natural spaces, it makes me wonder if DePaul University in Chicago is comfortable with the knowledge that its Malta campus will be built at the detriment of the local environment. While most people from Malta will shrug this off as a simple “you think they actually care?” scenario, the reality is that Maltese people heavily underestimate how much foreign countries value the environment. Furthermore, I would hope that as the United States’ “largest Catholic University”, it would heed the word of the Maltese Church’s Environment Commission on development in this area.
So I will ask once again with the hope that this question arrives to someone at DePaul University in Chicago – Is your University comfortable with the idea that your new campus will be built on virgin land in Malta, resulting in further environmental degradation and loss of already limited public natural space? A lot of Maltese people are not happy with this situation, but since our government values money much more than it does the environment, I am interested in your insight.
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On a side note – This project was announced in conjunction with another proposed project for the construction of a natural park in the same area of Malta. However, our Prime Minister wants to strike a balance between those rabid tree-hugging environmentalists and the trustworthy developers, since either party is not happy with each of these two project. This balance will be sought on the basis of sustainable development, which is not a very reassuring statement when on considers that this is the same government that made popular singer Ira Losco a goodwill ambassador for sustainable development. You have to laugh really.