Higher education…seek your true self

Source: The Malta Independent


It is a pity that with so many resources allocated to education only a few make it to university. The official statistic is that the early school leaver rate stands at 37 per cent¸ just over double the EU average rate of 18 per cent. This may not be so damning were it not for the fact that tertiary education is free and all students receive a monthly stipend regardless of their social standing. Admittedly¸ those undergraduates coming from working class families still find it a challenge so most try to earn some money in between semesters and during the long summer months¸ mostly in low paid catering and hotel jobs.

But the truth is that without direct financial assistance none of the working-class students can afford higher education. By sheer contrast¸ as we shall see later¸ most Western countries charge an annual fee for entry to university courses. Ever since university tuition became free in the past two decades¸ one witnessed an impressively rapid increase in the number of students and more recently¸ at the vocational Malta College of Arts¸ Science and Technology.

Even so¸ considering that tertiary education is provided to all regardless of family means¸ 25 per cent is still a low figure of those concluding secondary education. Ideally¸ no effort should be spared to double this rate¸ which is the norm in the United Kingdom. Still the education sector in UK is going through a bad patch given the austerity measures introduced by the coalition government. An OECD report entitled “Education at a Glance 2011” compares education data from 34 member nations across the developed world and shows that the UK is now the third most expensive place in the world to go to university¸ and¸ with tuition fees set to rise next year¸ the UK could find itself at the top of the list. The study shows that the UK has one of the worst records for educational participation among leading economies. Students aged 16 to 18 are increasingly planning to look for work after finishing their A-levels rather than continue into higher education.

The UK’s participation rate for people aged between 15 and 19 and 20 and 29 is well below the OECD average¸ with the UK lagging behind countries such as Slovakia¸ Estonia¸ Poland and the Czech Republic. The Office of Fair Access (OFA) recently announced that every university in the UK would charge at least €9¸000 per year in tuition fees starting in 2012. Further research revealed that almost 75 per cent of universities will charge the maximum fees of €13¸500 a year. Back to Malta¸ up to now¸ most degree courses at university have not required the payment of fees by Maltese citizens. In addition every student¸ whatever his or her financial circumstances¸ is entitled to free tuition.

This means that not only the State does not receive any income from students but it is also paying out millions of euro each year as stipends for students at Junior College¸ the university and MCAST. In fact¸ as more European countries tighten their purse strings¸ it is unusual to continue providing a blanket bonanza to students. Unfortunately¸ elements in the party now in power¸ and the Leader of the Opposition¸ both for political reasons¸ appear to be strongly opposed to any radical change as regards the introduction of fees and the removal of a universal entitlement to stipends.

No wonder that at a time when the State is trying to reduce its national debt¸ extra funding for i