The beleaguered American University of Malta has so far only succeeded in enrolling six new students for the second academic year of its operation, The Sunday Times of Malta is informed.
The university, which only managed to attract 26 students for its first year, recently said it had received applications from 26 countries for its second intake.
The new academic year at the AUM opened in the last week of August when new students were supposed to embark on their full-time courses. However, no student activity has been noted on campus.
“The AUM is offering seven different degree courses. However, not even one new student per course has been enrolled,” a source at the university told this newspaper, describing the situation on campus as desperate.
An AUM official refused to reply to questions on the number of students recruited but said the enrolment period was still open and ended at the beginning of next month.
According to the source, the university’s administrators have told lecturers that more students are expected to arrive.
Most of the 26 students enrolled last year were non-paying, having been awarded scholarships by the university’s owners, the Jordanian construction magnates Sadeen Group.
Then, as the year progressed, most of the students either dropped out or discontinued their studies.
Engineers and architects have continued to meet every week on the Żonqor project and planning is in full swing
Last January, just before the start of the second semester, all the lecturers were informed that their contracts had been terminated – just days before their six-month probation period was over. The AUM then hired new lecturers on lower wages and many on reduced hours.
Despite efforts made over the last few months to boost student numbers, with the hiring of more administrative staff and an increased budget, results so far are even worse than those of last year.
And they are still a far cry from the kind of figures contained in a plan that the university had presented to the National Commission for Further and Higher Education, on the basis of which it had obtained a licence to operate.
The original plan was to host about 4,600 students in five schools within 10 years of the start of operations. The AUM was bound to recruit 100 students during its first year, increasing to 350 in its second.
The AUM project was shrouded in controversy from the start. Apart from the shareholders’ lack of background in endeavours of an academic nature – the Sadeen Group being a construction company – the project immediately drew harsh criticism over the government’s agreement to award it a large parcel of pristine land in Marsascala on which to build its campus.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had described the university as a way to kick-start the economy of the south. But following a public outcry and political pressure exerted by the Opposition, the plans were revised and the area to be developed, at Żonqor Point, was reduced in size. Instead, the AUM was allocated new facilities at the former Dock 1 in Cospicua.
In view of the lack of students, Dr Muscat had declared that the AUM would not start construction work at Żonqor before its campus in Cospicua, which can hold about 500 students, was filled.
Yet, this newspaper is informed that Sadeen Group has carried on with its development preparations for the Marsascala site.
“Engineers and architects have continued to meet every week on the Żonqor project and planning is in full swing,” the source at AUM said.
Apart from a campus, the Sadeen Group will also be building sleeping quarters to host hundreds of students in serviced accommodation.