With tuition fees rising from Arizona to Peterborough, why not study at universities in Malta? The Mediterranean island nation that Pope Francis is visiting this weekend is more than just a tourist destination with a population of over 85% baptized Catholics – it’s a real ‘hidden gem’ for international students.
Education standards here are slowly on par with the standards of their Western European neighbours. In the latest Times Higher Education Emerging Economies ranking – in countries or regions classified by the London Stock Exchange’s FTSE group as ‘advanced emerging’, ‘secondary emerging’ or ‘frontier’ – the University of Malta (UoM) was ranked 177th out of 606 universities worldwide. oM lecturer, Dr Alexander Micallef, has also been ranked among the top 2% of scientists worldwide in a new study conducted by Stanford University.
Apart from the high academic quality, Malta is also affordable. Although it is not the cheapest country in Europe, the prices there are significantly lower than in the United States and Canada. Think of a monthly rent of US$1,600 for a modern one-bedroom apartment in the capital Valletta. Utilities, groceries, health care, and transportation cost around $700 per month. Add in the region’s finest beaches, hard-hitting North African cuisines, and English spoken by about nine out of 10 people, and it’s easy to see why 15% of residents here are expats.
Before packing your bags to study in Malta, however, it always pays to know more about the country in which you want to invest a lot of time, money and effort. Here are five things you need to know about Malta:
1. Migrant Pit Stop
The archipelago of three islands – Gozo, Comino and Malta – is home to around 516,000 people living in 316 square kilometers (122 square miles), making it the smallest and most densely populated country in the EU. South of Sicily and northeast of Tunisia, Malta is an entry point into Europe for migrants crossing the Mediterranean.
NGOs accuse Malta of ignoring distress calls from boats, and the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee found during a 2020 visit that the treatment of migrants detained there was “bordering on the inhuman” due to “institutional negligence”.
Malta argues it has made significant investments since the report, saying it also has to deal with “the largest share of irregular migrants per capita in the EU”.
2. Abortion is forbidden
Catholicism is the state religion and Malta is the only EU country that completely bans abortion, punishable by up to three years in prison. The Times of Malta reported in 2021 that only three women over the past two decades have been convicted, with none imprisoned.
Divorce was legalized after a referendum vote in 2011. In 2017, Malta legalized same-sex marriage and adoption by all couples. Malta became in December the first country in Europe to legalize cannabis and its cultivation for personal use.
3. A former British colony
A British colony since 1814, Malta became independent in 1964 and a republic in 1974 while remaining in the Commonwealth. With Maltese and English as official languages, it joined the European Union in 2004 and the Eurozone in 2008.
For decades, there were only two parties in its single-chamber parliament, the Labor Party and the Nationalist Party. Prime Minister Robert Abela’s Labor government won a third term in general elections on March 26. Abela had taken over in an internal party vote in January 2020 following the departure of his predecessor Joseph Muscat.
Muscat was accused of obstructing the investigation into the 2017 murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who had accused those around her of corruption. A 2021 public inquiry concluded that the Maltese state “should take responsibility” for his death by creating a “climate of impunity”.
4. The national economy is as vibrant as Malta’s universities
Malta’s economy has surpassed that of its eurozone neighbors before the pandemic, driven by tourism, financial services and online gambling. The coronavirus triggered a massive recession, but the islands rebounded with growth of more than 9% last year. In January, Malta’s unemployment rate was 3.1%, the lowest in the eurozone.
Malta has controversially raised 1.1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) since 2013 by offering EU passports in return for investment, known as golden passports. The program has been suspended for Russians and Belarusians since Moscow invaded Ukraine.
In 2017, more than a dozen European media organizations in an investigation dubbed the “Malta Files” accused the country of being a “pirate base for tax evasion inside the EU”, allegations denied by Malta. Malta was last year placed on a “grey list” of countries monitored for combating money laundering and terrorist financing by the G7 Financial Action Task Force.
5. Order of Malta
The Knights of Malta emerged from the Knights Hospitaller who founded a hospital in Jerusalem in 1048, gaining strength under the First Crusade. In 1530, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V granted Malta to the order which had continued to protect Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land.
After driving the Ottomans from Malta in 1565, the order became a key Mediterranean naval power, attacking Barbary pirates, plundering their ships and capturing slaves. Napoleon drove the order from the island after its occupation of Malta in 1798.
Today, the order – still a sovereign entity maintaining diplomatic relations with other states – is based in Rome and carries out humanitarian actions around the world thanks to its volunteers.
Additional AFP reporting