Removal of O-level exam fees: southern candidates rise by 9%

Removing A-level fees was no game-changer in the south, but O-level registrations there have increased considerably

Making SEC exams completely free has resulted in a considerable increase in the total number of 15-year old students sitting for these exams with the difference being most pronounced in the South Harbour region where the numbers have shot up by 9%.

A statistical report issued by the MATSEC office describes the removal of exam fees as a measure introduced by the state to encourage students to further their studies.

Overall, the measure has resulted in an increase of over 300 individuals registering for at least one SEC subject. The increase in registrations led to the highest proportion ever of 16-year-olds sitting for the exam, with over 94% of those born in 2003 registering for at least one exam. This represented a 4-point increase over last year.

Moreover, a MaltaToday analysis comparing the number of registrations in each region in 2018, before the full removal of exam fees, with the number of registrations in 2019, shows that while the increase in registrations at A-level was more pronounced in the more affluent north and west of the country, the increase in O-level registrations was more pronounced in the south harbour, Gozo and central regions.

In fact, while in the south harbour region the number of those sitting for A-Levels has actually decreased by 4.5% from 2018, despite the removal of exam fees, the number of those sitting for O-Levels has gone up by 9%.

This could be an indication that students hailing from poorer families are already weeded off from tertiary education at post-secondary level, when students sit for A-levels.

But the situation is different at secondary level, where removing exam fees has actually encouraged more poorer students to sit for at least one exam. The south harbour district includes some of Malta’s most depressed regions, including Cottonera. In Xghajra – a small seaside locality – the number of candidates has shot up by 43% from just 21 students in 2018 to 30 in 2019.   

The total number of candidates from the three cities (Bormla, Birgu and Isla) has increased by 7%.

Sharper increases were registered in more populous urban centres like Tarxien (+19%), Paola (+24%) and Fgura (+14%). Valletta was the only locality to report a decline in the number of candidates, but this could also reflect the capital’s city ageing population.

Statistics show that all regions have seen an increase in the number of students sitting for O-levels, ranging from a 3-point and 4-point increase in the south east and western region to a sharper 9-point increase in the south harbour.

Although the South Eastern region, which includes Birzebbugia and Zurrieq, registered the lowest increase in the number of candidates sitting for their O-Levels, the increase was double that registered in the number of registrations for advanced level exams.

In contrast in the more affluent western district which includes Attard, Lija and Balzan as well as a number of rural localities like Siggiewi, the increase in MATSEC registrations was double that in SEC registrations.

A sharp increase was also recorded in Gozo (+7.5%) and the north harbour district (+8.3).

The northern region saw an increase of 5.8% in the number of students sitting for O-Levels. This region was the only one to see an equal increase in students sitting in both advanced and ordinary level.

In the north harbour region, the increase was more pronounced in working class localities like Hamrun (+19%) and Ta’ Xbiex (+86%). But an increase which could also reflect demographic trends, is also registered in Swieqi (+17%) and Sliema (+12.5%).

Percentage increase over 2018

Region O-level A-level
North 5.8% +6.3%
N Harbour +8.3% 0
Western +4.1% 8.7%
S Eastern +3% 1.6%
S Harbour +9.2% -4.5%
Gozo 7.5% -4.8%

Localities registering sharpest increase 

Region Locality Increase
North Qwara 16.6%
N Harbour Ta' Xbiex 85.7%
Western Lija 25.9%
S Harbour Xghajra 42.9%
S Eastern Gudija  25.9%
Gozo San Lawrenz 83.3%


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