Daniel Xerri, Chairman of the ELT Council within the Ministry for Education and Employment

As might be obvious to anyone who sees them enjoying all that Malta has to offer, the number of English language students visiting the islands this year seems to have increased. This would mean that 2017 is going to be even better than last year, which saw almost 77,000 students visiting Malta, or a growth of 1.6 per cent. What it also means is that the English language teaching sector is developing further thanks to Malta’s international reputation as a quality destination. With such development, the entire country stands to benefit. A cursory look at some figures confirms this.

English language students constitute four per cent of all tourist arrivals and they contribute almost 11 per cent of all guest nights. Moreover, more than eight per cent of total tourist expenditure is made by students. A report produced by Deloitte estimates that this amounts to around €139 million. Most importantly, while the average length of stay of a student is almost 21 days, that of other kinds of tourists is around eight days. This suggests that the financial contribution made by a student is rather significant.

Thousands of people stand to gain from a larger volume of students

Students come to Malta from around 40 countries. Whereas in the past the main countries of origin were almost exclusively in Europe, the sector is now registering a more diverse mix of nationalities. In fact, in 2016 more than a quarter of all student weeks were from countries that are not usually considered tourist source markets for Malta. These included Turkey, Colombia, Brazil and Japan. The average length of stay of students from these countries was longer than that of students from EU countries such as Italy, France and Germany, which have for a long time been important source markets for the sector.

Some might associate the English language teaching sector with students in their early teens; however, half of all students are adults, with 29 per cent of them being over 26 years of age. Quite significantly, those who spend the longest time in Malta are over 18.

The English language teaching sector generates revenue from three main sources: tuition, accommodation, and activities. In 2016, the gross revenue for every student week grew by seven per cent. Tuition amounted to more than half while accommodation contributed to 39 per cent. Accommodation was the main source of revenue growth.

Last year the increase in revenue corresponded to an increase in costs. Direct costs increased by more than 10 per cent for every student week when compared to the previous year. According to the Deloitte report, two of the main increases in direct costs were in teachers’ payroll and accommodation. The latter is quite significant for Maltese families given that more than a quarter of all student weeks were spent in accommodation provided by host families. Indirect costs increased by almost nine per cent per student week, the main expenditure being on marketing, rent, and the payroll of non-teaching staff. What these figures indicate is that this sector contributes to the revenue made by other sectors in Malta, and provides work to many people.

Even though the busiest period in terms of student arrivals is from June to August, this sector operates all year round and hence relies on the services provided by employees occupying a wide variety of positions. It employs more than 1,200 teachers and is an important source of employment for women and for individuals aged between 18 and 24. Moreover, around 800 people are employed in non-teaching positions, the large majority of them being on a full-time basis.

Some might object to the increase in the number of students, but what they seem to forget is that Malta’s economy and thousands of people stand to gain from a larger volume of students spending longer in the country. The main effect of more students choosing Malta as their preferred destination for an English language learning experience is that more businesses, families and individuals benefit.

Therese Comodini Cachia, Spokesperson for Education and Employment

The Malta National Statistics Office (NSO) stated that last year the number of foreign students attending English language courses at local specialised schools amounted to 76,730, which showed an increase of 1.6 per cent over 2015.

Data issued by the NSO shows an encouraging trend of an increasing number of English language students in Malta. This has a number of consequences that span far and wide, affecting both the teaching and learning of English, both the education and business sectors, both now and the future.

An immediate consequence is the provision of a complex range of different types of English teaching services for which there is a growing demand. Language schools now have to plan and provide tailor-made courses that cover a variety of contexts, from the individual with specific requirements to groups with special interests to others with particular work requirements. Learners may enroll for short-term or long-term courses or for lessons in particular language skills. This presents an enormous demand for schools that have to meet and respond to a complex as well as a growing market. This entails keeping abreast with the latest in foreign language theory and teaching practice so that the learners’ various needs are met.

Malta gains a sense of connectedness with a number of other prestigious English teaching destinations

Another not so immediate but nonetheless significant consequence is the economic benefit to Malta through the teaching of English. The English language teaching industry is primarily a valid contributor to tourism, and consequently to the country’s economy. In 2016, students studying English provided for 4.2 per cent of the tourism segment. The growing numbers help language schools thrive but this profit also overlaps onto the business, entertainment and leisure industries, generating a number and a range of employment opportunities.  in their effort to facilitate communication and learning

Language students also require accommodation. The increasing numbers have given rise to a variety of accommodation options. Their stay is not only helping the hotel industry but the more recent alternative of hosting is also providing yet another source of income from home for families or pensioners.

The outcome is that Malta gains a sense of connectedness with a number of other prestigious English teaching destinations as it assures an optimal quality in language teaching and training to all stakeholders.

All of this has repercussions on English language teaching, a competitive and dynamic market, which is a challenge in itself. First of all, Malta is already committed to supporting the development of high-quality teaching and ensuring that these high standards are maintained throughout. It strives to encourage and attract qualified people to explore possibilities to teach English which is complemented by its efforts in curriculum development and continuous professional development. The country’s various professional bodies contribute greatly to the competitiveness and success of the local English teaching sector.

All efforts to ensure that the increasing number of students of English is well met are also of consequence to the country. It guarantees that these students are more likely to visit, to study and to be interested in doing business in Malta. Raising the profile of expertise in English teaching ensures success all round.

Ultimately, the increase in the number of English language students in Malta can only mean a stronger and better service in the teaching of the same language that will be of benefit to both local and foreign students – a fact that has been attested time and time again.

If you would like to put any questions to the two parties in Parliament send an e-mail marked clearly Question Time to editor@timesofmalta.com.

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