Falling by around 4% to 229,005 student weeks, the number of students from the adult market also fell once again last year.
However, the growth in the junior market softened the blow, resulting in an overall 1.6% increase in English language students going to Malta.
Genevieve Abela, CEO of ELT representative body FELTOM, emphasised that the increase in student numbers is minimal.
“1.6% is really just petering out into stability rather than an increase”
“1.6% is really just petering out into stability rather than an increase,” she said. “For FELTOM, it’s not really an increase.”
Abela said the slowdown in growth is the result of difficulties for students to obtain long-stay student visas, economic factors in parts of the world and accessibility to Malta in the first place.
“Over the past couple of years, FELTOM has been working very closely with the government to increase and grow our profile in terms of student weeks and quality of students, the length of stay of the students and the types of students we are attracting,” she told The PIE News.
“Our position at the moment is that we do not have enough valid government policies to encourage length of stay, so when it comes to visa policies, they’re just not efficient, we don’t have enough representations [abroad]. It’s not easy to get a visa for Malta.”
The average length of stay per student fell from 3.2 weeks to three weeks.
English language students from outside the EU must apply for a ‘C’ visa (Schengen) to carry out a language programme for 90 days or less. However, those who wish to carry out a longer-stay must obtain a long-stay ‘D’ visa.
This can be done in-country, said Abela, but to process the change visas is time consuming and costly. To help students, FELTOM runs an outreach programme explaining the application and the documents they need.
The top source markets were consistent with last year’s – with Italy once again topping the list, increasing to 18,798. Students from Italy alone accounted for close to 25% of all students.
The second-highest sending country, Germany, also displayed a small increase of 553, to 10,917 students, while France remained the third highest source market sending 8,517 students, up by 860.
Student numbers from Russia, previously a strong source market for Maltese providers, fell once again, from 5,720 students to 4,156.
Abela attributed the decline in Russian students to a number of issues.
“It is two-fold, there is an economic issue – we know the Russia rouble is down so that affects spending power – and there is also an accessibility issue – we are not an airport hub, so we need to have direct flights. People tend to choose places where there are direct flights.”
The national airline, Air Malta, connects the country with over 35 destinations, but is reportedly in dire financial straits. And Russian students can only fly with the airline directly from Moscow just two days a week.
Non-EU countries Brazil and Colombia were on the rise, according to the statistics, with the former increasing from 2,347 to 2,621 students last year.
“People tend to choose places where there are direct flights”
And students from Colombia increased to 1,093 up from 739.
Abela credits the boost in long-stay students to the marketing efforts of the schools, the Malta Tourism Authority and the ELT council.
“We all create a good, strong, linked chain to be able to market the destination,” she said. “The fact that other government authorities don’t recognise that and in fact make it difficult for us to attract the quality of students is very disappointing.”
The lack of study-work rights is also a handicap for the ELT providers, she said.
“These are students when they travel, they travel for a long-study stay, but they want to be able to supplement their studies with minimal work,” said Abela.
“And so the fact that the government hasn’t moved on this and hasn’t given us that option is hindering the number of student weeks.”
July was by far the most popular month for student arrivals, according to the statistics, with over 19,000 arriving in this month alone – an increase of 22% from 2015. August, meanwhile, saw a decline in student numbers by 20%, down to 9,919 students.
Malta’s Ministry of Justice has not yet responded to The PIE News’s request for comment.