Malta Earns High Praise

Malta’s unique proficiency for languages recently earned it high praise from one of the world’s most prominent technology companies. Indeed, John Herlihy, Google’s Limerick-born Vice President of international small and medium business operations, went so far as to say that the Mediterranean nation has a lot to teach the rest of the world when it comes to language skills. Saying, in a recent article in Ireland’s Independent, that countries “must learn to talk the talk” he specifically highlighted Malta as a success story.

Emphasizing the need for “language skills in business” and even going to far as to call it the key to “the key to unlocking export potential,” Herlihy praised “Tiny Malta” for its ability to use its multilingual citizens as a selling point when attracting international financial services and business process outsourcing. As Herlihy well knows, Malta dedicated itself to the European Union policy of “native+1” with regards to languages and communication long before the nation even joined the EU in 2004. As a result, it is reaping immense dividends today.

Of course, the story of English in Malta owes more to colonialism than farsighted politicians. Prior to gaining its independence in 1964, Malta had been a British possession since 1814. Over the intervening century and a half, government business was being carried out in both English and Maltese (the country’s other official language) long before  its EU candidacy was even a consideration. The Maltese government does deserve praise, however, for its decision post-independence to label the two languages as “equal and the same” in its Constitution. Likewise, the widespread instruction of English in public schools – and its prominent role in higher education – has been a prudent investment. In a country where fully 88% of Malta’s population speaks English (and thousands apply for a Malta Student Visa annually) is has proved a uniquely valuable asset.

Which English Immersion Program is Right for Me?

Although there are countless types of ESL schools around the world, when it comes to Immersion English Programs (IEP) there are two main types of ESL schools in the US: University IEPs and Private IEPs. Each has their benefits and drawbacks and therefore warrant a closer examination:

University IEPs, as the name suggests, are taught at (or at least with the support of) a large college or university and are designed to help students prepare develop the English language skills they will need to accomplish their future academic goals (namely English-language courses and degree programs) and may even allow student to enroll in elective, non-ESL courses. At the same time, given their focus, University IEPs often use a rigorous application process (which may include formal proficiency assessments like the TOEFL) and feature semester-length programs. Although summer programs may be shorter, classes often start and stop according to the college’s general academic semester and are not as receptive to student needs. At the same time, University IEPs do allow students the opportunity to actually immerse themselves in an English-language campus and may be the perfect place to build the foundation for future academic success.

Private IEPs, likewise, use proficiency exams to divide their students by ability but typically accept a larger variety of exam types that are better-suited for beginning- and intermediate-level students. Private IEPs, being private businesses aimed more specifically aimed at satisfying customer needs, are also more included to offer a variety of semester lengths, starts dates and courses. Thus Private IEPs are a good choice for students who are interested in short courses with specific goals. Their setting is also a unique attribute: as stand-alone institutions students can select a school with the environment of their choosing (urban or rural) and thus tailor their immersion experience to their comfort level.

For example, in a city location, although you will not have access to the same facilities that are offered on the campus of a university, you will have ample opportunity to make use of the convenient public transportation and explore the surrounding area. Private IEPs each have their own distinct characteristics allowing students the freedom to select the school that best meets their needs and preferences.

Given the scope of possibilities, however, it is important to consider each of these factors (and how important they are to you) before making a decision. After all, an IEP may be your first step in the path to success!

Ireland International Student Survey

A recently released study by Education Ireland that focuses on emerging trends in international student higher education reveals a number of surprising developments. By examining the data collected in 2010 about the Ireland’s 25,781 international students (and comparing those findings to a similar study done in 2007), for example, overall international student enrollment has fallen by about 2% in three years.

A closer examination of the survey’s specifics, however, reveals that outside factors like the Global Economic Crisis, however, may have had a significant impact on these figures. For example, the total number of full-time students did increase by 10% over that period, while the number of English language students fell by fully 50%. These shifts offsets each other nicely because full time students represent 66% of all international students and English immersion students account for considerably less than 10%. Given the importance of higher education in general but the large number of competing English immersion opportunities available worldwide (and its less essential nature), these findings are typical of recessionary years.

Countries of origin reports also support this finding. Many of Ireland’s largest exchange partners are from English-speaking countries and include the United States, the United Kingdom, India, and Canada. Although other, non-native English speaking nationals also made the top ten – notably China, France, Germany, Spain, and Malaysia – the majority of those countries are member of the European Union (who can study for free in Ireland without a student visa). These findings would seem to imply that the language requirement laid out in the Ireland student visa process acts as a significant deterrent for would-be exchange students. At the same time, the numbers show a sharp fall in language immersion students from Japan and South Korea who, residing outside the EU and studying largely to improve language skills, indicating the elastic demand for such services in a recession. Nevertheless, as the world economy recovers, the slight dip means Ireland can rest assured that its unique place in higher education is secure.

Malta: Trends in International Student Exchange

Two recently published articles on the state of Malta’s international exchange programs have revealed key insights about the country’s world-famous international education system. The first, about US-Malta student exchange relations, is from the Malta Independent Online and reveals a very intriguing fact: although the US remains the world’s most popular destination for international students, the US-Maltese exchange relationship is tilted in Malta’s favor. According to the 2011 Open Doors report, the number of American students enrolled at schools in Malta rose from 95 in 2009 to 105 in 2010. At the same time, the number of students from Malta who studied in the US fell from 37 in 2009 to 32 in 2010. The numbers, although small, illustrate an interesting trend the is based on two opposing factors. The first is thanks to Malta’s membership in the Schengen Area, an arrangement that has made the Malta Student Visa process for Americans simpler than ever. At the same time, with its membership in the European Union in 2004 and then Eurozone in 2008, Malta’s citizens have been granted relatively easy (and free) access to universities throughout Europe. As a result, Malta has become a more attractive prospect for Americans while competition has dimmed America’s bright lights for the Maltese.

At the same time, another article shows that Malta’s English schools – which attracted fully 73,000 students in 2010 – remains vulnerable to competition. Indeed, changes in scholarship funding in Spain that now favor the US, the UK and Ireland to study English meant that the number of Spanish students studying in Malta in 2011 fell by over 60%. This price sensitivity among Spanish nationals, who only the year before had shown the strongest growth, further underscore the implications of increased competition and the recent recession. Indeed, the rising cost of living in Malta has effectively closed the gap between Malta and the UK meaning that Malta will have to work still harder to attract students from Europe and elsewhere.

New Zealand International Student Enrollments

A recently released report from the New Zealand Ministry of Education provides a number of powerful insights on the country’s international student enrollments. At first glance, the data – which covers primary and secondary schools; public colleges and universities; private training centers; and English language schools from 2001 to 2007 – is encouraging. Between 2001 and 2007, for example, total international student enrollment rose from 79,030 to 90,934 – a strong 15% increase. A closer examination, however, reveals that the number of international students in the New Zealand rose by fully 61 percent from 2001 to 2002 alone. Having risen from 79,030 to 126,919 in the span of single year, this closer examination reveals there has actually been a 28 percent decline since then.

The reasons for this are complicated. Country of origin reports indicate that the growth spike experienced from 2001 to 2002 was largely the result of a single, unsustainable surge in students from China. In the span of a single year enrollment rose from 25,182 to 53,340 – thanks in large part to favorable changes in New Zealand student visa regulations – but since then Chinese student enrollment declined. In 2007, for example, it fell below its 2001 level to 24,776.

Less important are the reasons for this trend and more important are their implications. Since this decline began, the New Zealand Ministry of Education has actively worked to limit its overreliance on a single country (and even Asia in general). In 2001, its top three exchange partners (China, Japan and South Korea) made up 66 percent of all enrollments – a number that peaked in 2003 at 73 percent. Thanks to ongoing efforts to diversify its recruitment portfolio, New Zealand’s efforts to attract students from Europe, North America, and Latin America have paid off. European attendance rates have risen 83 percent from 2001 to 2007 while North American enrollments have risen by 168 percent at the same time.

By contrast, in 2007 students from China, Japan and South Korea made up only 60 percent of international student enrollment. Thus, with its diversified partnerships and strong growth outside traditional strongholds, it can be safely said that the rise in international student enrollments in New Zealand is here to stay.