Removal of Matsec fees prove to be no game-changer in less affluent south

The sharpest increase in numbers noted in localities with mixed social composition, the number of absentees also on the rise

Making Matsec exams completely free has surely relieved struggling working-class families from a considerable expense, but it only resulted in a marginal increase in the total number of 18-year-olds sitting for A-level exams.

In an indication that by this slight increase students hailing from poorer families might not be interested in pursuing tertiary education, the measure has not been much of game-changer in less affluent southern regions which remain under-represented among students taking exams for entry to the University of Malta.

Region Number P.P increase over 2018
North 751 +6.3pp
N Harbour 926 0
Western 636 +8.7pp
S Eastern 615 +1.6pp
S Harbour 490 -4.5pp
Gozo 461 4.8pp

Localities registering largest increase in number of candidates after removal of fees

Birgu +150%
Rabat 33.3%
Qormi 31.4%
Naxxar 25.7%
Siggiewi 245%
Mqabba 24.3%
Marsakala 21.4%

In total registrations have increased from 4,899 in 2018 when half the costs were covered by the state, to 4,919 in 2019. But surprisingly the number remains less than the 5,185 candidates who registered in 2017, when exams were still paid in full.

On the other hand, a statistical report issued by Matsec reveals that the number of absentees has shot up.

Describing the removal of exam fees as one “to encourage students to further their studies” which contributed to an increase in registrations, the report notes that it is “regrettable, however, to note that there was also an increase in no shows.”

Absentees increased from 7.1% (Advanced level) and 5.4% (Intermediate level) in 2017, to 7.9% (Advanced) and 6.6% (Intermediate) in 2018, and to 11.8% (Advanced) and 11.5% (Intermediate) in 2019.

Although on a regional level the removal of fees seems to have had a marginal impact, an analysis by locality suggests that the removal of fees had a marked impact in localities like Marsaskala, Qormi, Siggiewi and Rabat, which have a mixed social composition.

The largest increase in the number of registrations over the last year was registered in the more affluent western district, which includes Attard and Balzan, where increases were marginal; as well as the more rural Rabat and Siggiewi where the increases where sharper. In this district the number of candidates has shot up from 585 in 2018 to 636 in 2019. In this region the sharpest increase was registered in Siggiewi, from 71 to 88 and Rabat from 72 to 96.

Another increase was registered in the northern district from 706 in 2018 to 751 in 2019. The sharpest increase here was registered in Naxxar where the number of candidates shot up from 144 to 181.

But while the more affluent northern and western regions increased, the number of students remained stable in the southern harbour and south-eastern regions.

In the south-eastern region the number of candidates increased from 614 to 615. In this region the most significant increase was registered in Marsaskala where the number of candidates shot up from 112 to 136.

In the southern harbour region, which includes Cottonera, the number of candidates actually declined by 4.5 percentage points despite the removal of exam fees. Candidates decreased from 513 in 2018 to 490 in 2019. But the total number of candidates hailing from Birgu, Bormla and Isla increased from 17 in 2018 to 25 in 2019. The sharpest increase took place in Birgu where the numbers increased from 4 candidates in 2018 to 10 in 2019. Gozo has also seen a five-point decrease.

At 926 the number of candidates has remained the same in the northern harbour region. But while the number of candidates in Sliema has decreased from 96 to 74, Qormi has seen a sharp increase in candidates from 86 to 113.

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