Students have a right to be frustrated at Campus Hub.
The new project on the University of Malta’s doorstep has certainly wasted many opportunities. Despite its large size, it hasn’t provided new rooms to student organisations, who have long been denied space on the original campus.
Its contribution to students’ academic lives is minimal proportionate to the size of the project – some lecture halls to compensate for the take-up of Gateway halls as vaccination centres, but no new libraries or debating areas for the general student population.
There are also way fewer green spaces than there are on the main campus, which is a shame as the University should be on the frontline when it comes to promoting environmental initiatives.
Campus Hub seems mostly catered to foreign students who can afford its accommodation fees, which are pretty pricey but well in line with the pitiful state of the Maltese rental market.
However, while there is room for improvement, the project should in no way be scrapped or drastically altered in scope, as it could help tackle one of the UOM’s major problems… which is that campus life is a pretty alien concept.
Sure, the Quadrangle is bustling during the daytime and student organisations hold occasional parties and events, but as a general rule it all goes quiet when the sun sets. The reason is simple – Malta is so small that students, except perhaps those who live in Gozo, don’t need to move closer to campus when they start a degree.
Students might hang out on campus when they have an extended break between lectures or when it’s exam season and the library and study rooms are in full swing, but they generally go home as soon as their lectures are done.
This gives University the sense of being just another educational institution in a student’s academic journey and lends itself perfectly to student apathy.
I remember this well as a UOM student; while there were a few extremely active and motivated students, the majority didn’t seem to care much about campus life and this overarching sense of student apathy was a major source of frustration among the active students.
It was best reflected in the annual KSU elections, where student turnout hovered at around a dismal 30%, despite the vigorous campaigning by SDM and Pulse, who would come up with detailed manifestos with ideas on how to improve student life.
Campus Hub, which is run by the Vassallo Group, pledges on its website to “redefine the way students live, work and interact as a community”.
Students who live there can benefit from facilities such as a gym, pool, launderette and common spaces, and relax at an open-air piazza that encircles the accommodation. If they’re hungry, they might pop down to the nearby Wellbee’s supermarket or head off to Pizza Hut, Burger King, Cafe Cuba, Boost Juice and Amami.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many cafeterias besides Starbucks and Cake Box, but then again caffeine-denied students are spoiled for choice on campus.
With a stationery (Papier), a technology store (Intercomp), a supermarket (Wellbee’s) and an underground car park also on site, students who live at Campus Hub have pretty much everything they need, while the lifts are designed as traditional Maltese doors, adding a quirky flavour.
After students held a protest against the project for its “ultra-commercialisation” of student life, triggered by a spike in parking fees that was partially reversed, I decided to check it out for myself.
It was a weekday evening and most lectures were done for the day but there was still life on Campus Hub. Studious students bent over their notes at eatery tables, while others chilled on the benches, took a trip to the supermarket or headed out in groups with beers in hand.
There was a peaceful vibe in the air, an unusual sense of student life post-lectures at UOM, and it would be incredibly unfortunate if this had to be killed in its cradle because certain aspects of the project could improve.
Students should view this new project as an opportunity to push for new facilities, while Campus Hub should involve local students who don’t live on site more and not form some kind of gated community.
Cheaper accommodation options should also be on offer, there should be a better variety of eateries, and outlets which close early should reconsider their opening hours.
Still, a project like this right next to the University can only help foster that sense of campus community that has long been missing from UOM. While the majority of evening Campus Hub goers are international students, I believe that if the conditions are right, more Maltese students will eventually join in too.
Give students a sense of belonging and over time they will be more motivated to get involved in student organisations or activist groups or to create new initiatives.
That sense of student apathy and lack of campus life that have long plagued the University have never been this ripe for change.
What facilities would oyu like to see at Campus Hub?