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Malta’s ELT student numbers flatline after 2017’s high

After an unprecedented 13.6% rise in international students attending English language courses in Malta in 2017, the latest figures show the country’s ELT sector success stalled in 2018 with a 0.1% decrease on the previous year.

Malta's sizeable growth in 2017 was retained, but did not grow again in 2018. Photo: Pixabay

Students from Italy, Germany and France accounted for almost half of the 2018 total

According to data released by the National Statistics Office, a total of 87,112 students attended courses at licensed ELT schools in 2018 compared to 87,190 the previous year.

“We were hoping for a slight increase to match the increase in tourism”

Students from Italy (23,482), Germany (9,991) and France (8,844) accounted for almost half of the 2018 total, but NSO data revealed that numbers from these countries had declined by 8%, 3% and 3% respectively on 2017 levels.

The largest decrease in numbers came from Turkey (-25%), which according to some stakeholders can be attributed in part to the swift losses suffered to the Turkish lira.

However, Turkish students spent an average duration of 6.4 weeks in Malta, the third highest after South Korean (7.9 weeks) and Colombian students (11 weeks).

Widespread political uncertainty and changing trends in the global international education landscape were also cited as having potentially played a role in the drop in student numbers coming from Switzerland (-20%) and the Netherlands (-16%) in 2018.

Meanwhile, gains were made in ELT student numbers from Austria (up 40%), Ukraine and Sweden (36%).

Despite 2018 being a record year for general tourism in Malta, the share of international ELT students attending courses when compared to the total inbound tourists for the same year stood at 3.4% – a slight decline from 2017’s 3.8%.

Speaking with The PIE News CEO of FELTOM James Perry said he had “mixed feelings” about the latest NSO figures.

“I cannot say that we are not happy, but we were hoping it would be slightly better,” explained Perry.

“If you look across several years of industry data the numbers had been increasing at a slow rate, then last year it increased by 14% all at once.

“So we are happy we didn’t lose that, but we were hoping there would be a slight increase to match the increase in tourists visiting Malta.”

In terms of demographics, the NSO data revealed that the largest share of English language students were aged 15 years or less, accounting for 34% of total student visits.

Coupled with the growing number of tourists, the increasing visibility of young people in Malta may have been a factor leading to negative comments regarding underage drinking and anti-social behaviour being left on a report by the Times Of Malta.

Addressing the comments, Perry told The PIE Maltese citizens are generally very welcoming of tourists and ELT students alike.

“Unfortunately, the Maltese population sometimes mix young tourists up with the ELT population, and then the industry gets a bad name,” Perry added.

“There is the feeling that it is nice to have these students around”

“[Those comments are] not the general feeling at all, and negative incidents are an occasional ‘one off’. But it’s very unfair because, in reality, the school programs are so intense that the students barely have time to be on their own.”

Perry explained that the sector in Malta is working with the Maltese police to create an awareness campaign around underage drinking.

“We want to show the general population that we as a federation and English language schools are totally against [anti-social behaviour], and we make sure all of our underage students are supervised 24/7.

“The students contribute a lot to the country, they make up 10.4% of the total tourist guest nights and generate income for host families, so there is the feeling that it is nice to have these students around,” he added.

FELTOM has commissioned Deloitte to conduct research on the industry to analyse the effects and impacts and ensure its sustainability, which will be available later in 2019.

Additional reporting by Claudia Civinini 

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