An independent audit on which the Malta Further and Higher Education Authority (MFHEA) based its decision to award the beleaguered American University of Malta a further five-year operating licence has once again found dismal results at the Jordanian-owned tertiary educational facility.
Even though the three-day, pre-announced audit at the campus confirmed the AUM is not up to the standards expected from such an institution, the government agency still approved a five-year renewal of its operating licence, which will remain valid until 2027.
The audit, which was kept under wraps, was only published a few days ago and only after The Shift filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) to request it.
It confirmed that the AUM is still far from achieving its obligatory number of students.
The size of the student body had been an essential aspect in the much-hyped Jordanian investment’s sale to the public in 2015 when large parcels of prime public land at Cospicua’s Dock 1 and Marsascala’s Żonqor Point were given to a Jordanian individual for a pittance.
According to the original plans and the terms of its original licence, the AUM was to reach an intake of 1,200 students by its fourth year of operations. By last April – four and a half years down the road – it has not even reached a tenth of the original target.
According to the audit, ‘External Quality Assurance Programmes Audit Report’, by April 2022, when the audit was performed, the AUM had just 113 registered students.
The number of active students, those actively attending lectures, was even lower.
All students interviewed for the audit were on full scholarships from the Jordanian owner of the ‘university’, which resulted in the auditing panel hearing “positive” remarks from all students.
“A point of slight concern is that all students/graduates interviewed were on a scholarship by the AUM,” the audit noted. “The QAAP (audit team) hopes that this has not compromised the students’ ability to provide an objective assessment of the situation.”
While accepting that the initial stages of setting up a new university are always difficult, the audit still found that the number of lecturers is inadequate and not always up to the desired quality.
There are also no plans for a recruitment drive. Some 42 dropouts have been registered recently, a number considered “very high” by the audit team when considering the university’s already low number of students.
The audit also found many other significant problems ranging from the structure itself to the university’s administration and management.
Among these are a lack of quality assurance and staff to support it, the wrong weighting of exams resulting in poorly-performing students still managing to get pass marks, no compliance with EU educational standards, which, according to the audit team, is considered mandatory, and no clear definition on the duration of the course programmes.
Despite the dismal results, the MFHEA board – appointed by the government and led by Prof John Portelli – found the situation “satisfactory” and decided to renew the university’s licence for five more years.
Asked for a copy of the board’s minutes on its discussion of the report and the licence’s renewal, the MFHAE refused to provide any details.
The Authority said in a cover note accompanying the report, “the panel found that the BBA, BSc and MBA programmes at the AUM required improvements in subareas A-G (all areas).”
Without explaining why it recommended the licence’s renewal, the Authority stipulated, “AUM is to submit an action plan addressing the mandatory and key recommendations by not later than six weeks from the publication of this report.”
It is understood that while the board members have shelved the report for eight months to give the AUM time to put its house in order, the audit was only published following pressure from The Shift’s article on the licence’s renewal and the subsequent FOI request filed by this newsroom.
Last November, The Shift reported that Education Minister Clifton Grima had misled parliament when he told MP Rebekah Borg that the audit had already been published. It turned out the minister was referring to an older audit and not the latest one, which was published a month after Grima’s gaffe.
Just a few months ago, Prime Minister Robert Abela struck a contentious deal with the AUM, swapping public land at Zonqor Point with another property at Smart City for their promised mega campus.
Through this deal, Jordanian construction magnate Hani Hasan Naji Salah was sold a large area of public land on the seafront for just €0.47c per square metre.