University Rector’s Proposal Won’t Help The Maltese Language But It Will Alienate Many

Why are we even discussing this?


The University rector came up with a clever little way of pitching a very cynical idea as a patriotic one today. 

He told Times of Malta he wants to grant free tuition and stipends only to those students who have a Maltese O Level. You know, because Maltese is “at risk”, or so he claims. 

Suddenly, the University of Malta, which uses English exclusively as the language of instruction, feels responsible for enforcing the use of Maltese through financial punishments against The Great Unfluent. And somehow, this will secure the future of the language. 

But there is nothing to suggest the language is at risk - besides the fact that it is only spoken by about 400,000 people in a world of 6.5 billion. It’s not like there were any major reports or incidents of late to show that the Maltese language was somehow at risk. So why is the University rector bothering with this proposal?

The key is to follow the money. As the rector says in his interview, the university generates 20% of its revenue from non-EU students. That’s because they’re the only students who actually pay to attend. 

When Malta joined the EU, Maltese students were granted the right to study all over Europe and be treated as equal citizens of each country. And obviously the same applied vice versa. 

So by declining free entry to even Maltese people who do not have a Maltese O Level, the University will be able to do the same with all EU citizens and force them to pay to attend unless they learnt Maltese.

This obviously goes contrary to the whole spirit of EU legislation, but hey, if it makes money? Right? 

Prof. Vella claims his proposal is not intended to discriminate between Maltese and non-Maltese. The implication is therefore that it is intended to discriminate between Maltese people who speak Maltese fluently and Maltese people who can’t - let’s call them English speakers tal-pepe.

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Ironically though, this proposal would make English speakers tal-pepe better off than they are today. That’s because Maltese is already a pre-requisite for Maltese people to attend University of Malta. 

That’s right. Even if your parents have spent their lives paying taxes for you to be able to get access to a free education, you lose that right as soon as you fail your Maltese O Level.

At least, Prof. Vella’s proposal would give you a new option of paying for your Maltese tertiary education instead of being forced to enrol into a university abroad. 

The only people who will really be worse off according to Vella’s proposal are those non-Maltese families who settled down in Malta and whose children may not have managed to pick up the language in time; Expats who we should be seeking better ways of integrating with but who we can instead choose to see as some sort of cash cow. 

Anyway, the problem here is not so much Vella’s proposal but the way he tried to pitch it and what that says about him as the leader of Malta’s tertiary education institution. 

At a time when a thriving and globally-dependent Malta should be opening up to talent and diversity, our University rector is focused on two things: making money as quickly as possible and encouraging populist animosity towards English speakers. Instead of removing Maltese as the criteria to enter an English-language university, he wants to use Maltese to push people away. Instead of being true to the spirit of our EU membership, he wants to find a loophole.

Obviously this won’t help Maltese at all. It will actually alienate the same people who might have otherwise felt compelled to try and learn the language. 

But that’s not even the most tragic part. It’s clear in Vella’s interview that the real problem underlying his proposal is the dilemma that when he tried to market the University of Malta abroad, it boosts “student intake figures from both the EU and beyond”.

Someone please explain to him the concept of geo-targeted advertising. It might solve his problem and save Malta from taking this very embarrassing and silly decision.

What do you think of the rector's proposal? Have your say in the comments below or on Facebook.

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Written By

Chris Peregin