Updated August 1 with AUM statement

The American University of Malta is to waive tuition fees for Maltese nationals, the academic institution said on Saturday.

Maltese students who opt to study at the Cospicua-based institution will only pay registration and admission fees, following discussions by the university’s board of trustees and proposals made by the management.

Registration fees currently stand at €200 a year, with admission against a one-time €1,000 payment. 

The university said that the decision underlined its “commitment and vision towards the Maltese community to be a high-quality educational institution.”

Currently, Maltese nationals are charged €1,000 per semester to study at the AUM. Other EU nationals pay €1,500 while non-EU nationals are charged €3,750 per semester. 

Academic courses at the AUM are made up of eight semesters, spread out over four years. Courses range from business administration to engineering, game development or graphic design and animation.

The move to offer Maltese students free tuition is likely intended to help the AUM bolster its student population, which has remained far below expectation since it began operating.

AUM: Minimum headcount does not yet apply

Its contract with the government sets clear targets about student headcounts - targets it has so far failed to reach.

In a reply, the university disputed that, noting that the minimum student thresholds stipulated in its contract would only kick in once the two campuses contemplated by the agreement are built. 

"Once the whole processs [sic] is complete, the expected number of students as delineated under the mentioned agreement is of 4,000," the AUM said.

"Such number is cumulatively [sic] attained over the span of 4 fours [sic] of operation i.e. a total of 1,000 students per year."

The university opened its doors to students in 2017 with the intention of attracting 350 students in its first year, rising to 4,600 by its tenth, and plans to expand to a larger campus in ODZ land at Zonqor Point. 

But student enrolment proved challenging and the institution, owned by the Sadeen Group, drew only a fraction of the students it originally aimed for.

It is currently believed to have fewer than 200 students. 

The university however insists it is effectively ahead of schedule, saying in a reply to Times of Malta that just 5% of its project has been completed so far. 

By 2019, even the government was expressing scepticism: the education minister at the time, Evarist Bartolo, said the AUM should not get its Zonqor land until it had more students while Labour MP Glenn Bedingfield publicly called out the university for its plans to take up more land in Cottonera to build a dormitory. 

Earlier this year, the university dropped its dormitory plans and Prime Minister Robert Abela announced that the university would be given land at Smart City rather than Zonqor Point. 

In its statement on Saturday, the university said that it had been engaging with the community over the past months. 

We have heard several comments, concerns, and feedback about the current university operations. Although we are a private institution, we remain committed towards our service to the community at large,” a spokesperson said. 

“We look forward to welcoming more Maltese nationals and be part of the experience provided by the American University of Malta. We strive to give all of our students a special platform to develop their minds, their hearts and their souls.” AUM president Michel Najjar said.

PN statement 

While the move to waive the fees of Maltese students was a positive development, the Nationalist Party called for more transparency regarding agreements reached with AUM.

In a statement, the Opposition said that AUM’s move to allow the Maltese free acess to courses spurred questions of how these intakes were going to be financed.

The PN also questioned the real motive behind this decision to waive course fees and whether it was linked to the extension of AUM’s license beyond September.

The party expressed concern that despite the university failing to attract students year after year, it continued to receive a lot of support from the authorities.

“It is clear that the government has secret ulterior motives for AUM to be favoured and elevated at the expense of any other private educational institution and even the University of Malta,” it said.

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