There’s Brexit riches in education too

In all this Brexit turbulence, Malta has also started to see interest from UK universities and academic institutions asking about our infrastructure

Malta has also started to see interest from UK universities and academic institutions asking about our education infrastructure and the model adopted by British universities already present here, such as Queen Mary University of London (pictured above), Barts, and Middlesex University
Malta has also started to see interest from UK universities and academic institutions asking about our education infrastructure and the model adopted by British universities already present here, such as Queen Mary University of London (pictured above), Barts, and Middlesex University

Over the past few weeks since the historic decisive vote taken on 23 June, 2016 by the British people for their country to exit membership of the European Union, the UK itself as well as the other countries within the EU started a process to analyse how this decision will impact them in all aspects of everyday life. The fallout and dimension of this decision was immediately felt first through the financial markets with the ensuing turmoil in stock exchanges and currency rates. Then on the political level, with the immediate announcement of the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, which triggered internal rifts in both the Conservative party and the Labour party, and his handover to Theresa May as the new United Kingdom’s premier. 

As our Prime Minister said on the day the result of the UK referendum was announced, Malta had already conducted studies to prepare itself for such an eventuality. This involved expert advice as to how a Brexit vote will impact sectors of government, such as economic, social, health, tourism and education. Prepared as one can possibly be, the fact that this reality is uncharted, poses a number of new challenges. The UK still needs to decide and negotiate what kind of relations it wants with the EU following its exit. 

On the education aspect, questions have been raised mostly with regard to Maltese students who are already pursuing studies in the UK and those who intend to study there in future. At present EU citizens are entitled to study in other EU member states, pay domestic tuition fees, which in some cases are less than a third of international fees, and have access to the same financial aid. With the UK not forming part of the EU, all this and many of the students’ support currently in place, including student loans and the Erasmus+ mobility programme, may fall away. 

Academic institutions in the UK had been staunch advocates for the ‘Remain’ vote in the referendum campaign. One can easily understand this stand with some statistics. ‘Universities UK’ reports there were about 125,000 EU students at British Higher Education Institutions in 2014/15. Nearly half of these students came from five leading sending markets in Europe: Germany (13,675), France (11,955), Ireland (10,905), Italy (10,525), and Greece (10,130). As for Malta we had 1,022 students. It is estimated that these EU students in the UK generate over €4 billion in their economy and support more than 30,000 jobs. The stakes for the UK are therefore significant. 

The question hanging over the British decision is whether or not the UK remains a welcoming and open destination for EU students as has been the case before the exit vote. One now awaits the UK’s stand on this sector and its ultimate agreement with the EU. Many of the 1,000 Maltese continuing their studies in the UK are already benefitting from one form or another of the various government scholarship schemes to help them financially. The government will also continue to foster, in the best interest of education, student exchanges between the two countries.  

As usually happens when such uncertainty is prevalent, in a dynamic world market economy, English speaking destinations who usually compete with the UK to recruit students from EU counties and who want to study in an English language-speaking environment, are upping their ante. In all this Brexit turbulence, Malta has also started to see interest from UK universities and academic institutions asking about our education infrastructure and the model adopted by British universities already present here, such as Queen Mary University of London, Barts, and Middlesex University.

The Ministry for Education will continue to gear up to be able to meet and facilitate such interest, which should complement the government initiative to internationalise education in and from Malta. We shall be announcing new initiatives in the near future to continue to enhance our education sector and also attract foreign direct investment to Malta in the area of education.        

Evarist Bartolo is Minister of Education and Employment

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