Regulator has eyes on AUM but insists external audit found no major issue

Last Friday, the The National Commission for Further and Higher Education said in a statement there were no legitimate reasons to revoke AUM’s licence

No major issues were identified in two audit reports on the American University of Malta filed by US-based Clemson University last year, according to the regulator.

The National Commission for Further and Higher Education said Clemson filed a preliminary report in August and a second one in October following a site visit at AUM’s Bormla campus.

“Clemson have in these reports not identified any major issues that need addressing but in their preliminary report only made some recommendations for procedural improvements in certain areas,” NCFHE chairperson Godfrey Vella told MaltaToday.

Clemson University was roped in by AUM to carry out annual audits as part of the licence conditions imposed on it by the Maltese regulator.

Vella was responding to questions by this newspaper in the wake of AUM’s decision to axe all its full-time academic staff at the start of the year. The university, which is a start-up operation that only opened its doors to students last September, only attracted 23 students.AUM was granted land concessions in Bormla and Marsaskala to operate two campuses that would eventually host 4,000 students. The poor intake, which is far below what the university had expected for its first year, has raised doubts on the project’s viability.

When asked whether the NCFHE was concerned on AUM’s inability to attract enough students, Vella said no licence condition to any provider had ever stated the number of students the institution must have. However, he conceded the regulator was observing developments at AUM.

“Obviously, we will be keeping our eyes on the student numbers at AUM as clearly the numbers have to be such as to ensure ongoing viability, but it should be recognised that the university is still in its first semester of operations,” Vella said.

Asked about the drastic change in academic staff at AUM, Vella said these were replaced with equivalently qualified staff and the university satisfied the condition of having the right quantity of staff.

All academics have to be approved by the NCFHE, according to the licensing conditions, with Vella noting that this requirement had “rarely, if ever, been imposed on other institutions”.

Vella said AUM had always submitted the CVs of staff engaged to teach students.

“There has been no evidence of any material breach of licence conditions since the start of academic operations,” Vella said, when asked whether AUM had fallen foul of its obligations.

The NCFHE monitors all higher educational establishments that have been granted a licence. But Vella acknowledged that some institutions merited more attention than others.

The AUM was the brainchild of Jordanian investor Hani Saleh, who owns the Sadeen Group that has no background in higher education.

The university received its licence from the NCFHE in 2016. Meanwhile, last Friday, the NCFHE said in a statement there were no legitimate reasons to revoke AUM’s licence.

However, the commission said that just as it did with all other higher educational institutions, AUM will continue to be closely monitored.

“If serious licence condition breaches do occur then the NCFHE will take whatever steps will be shown to be necessary at that stage,” the regulator said.

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