Elgazette Logo newtrans  The magazine for English language teaching and English medium education

Test-takers head for Malta

Matt Salusbury on the proliferation of ELT preparing students for exams

An increasing number of language schools in Malta now run preparation courses culminating in an Ielts or Toefl exam, aimed at those who face a language requirement to study an English-medium degree course. The Gazette surveyed seventeen Maltese language schools and found that all but one offered this type of course in some form. Most reported that enrolments in academic English exam prep programmes were rising or at least holding steady.

Malta University Language School (Muls), an annex of the University of Malta, offers ten-week closed Ielts group courses for students who are ‘strong intermediate’ and above and want to study at the university. The uni is also the predominant destination of students of exam prep courses at Dos English Plus and Inlingua Malta, although some Inlingua students are aiming at a UK university. ECS Malta said its course alumni either end up doing further study in Malta or move to ‘other leading universities within Europe’.

Clubclass, European School of English and Unilang students are mostly bound for UK universities. If IH Malta students are seeking university entry, it’s ‘mostly in the EU’. Exam prep course students at Chamber College are headed for university in Malta, the UK, US and students’ home countries. Malta Sprachcaffe also reported it was home-country places that its students were after, and many of Gateway’s academic English students from Germany go on to university there – often requiring Ielts 6.0 and above for entry.

The English-medium University of Malta, the islands’ only university, says it currently has 800 international students and 450 exchange students, and has exchanges with universities in Australia, Canada, the US, China and Japan. It has competitive tuition fees, especially for ‘other EU’ students, with an Ielts 6.0 undergraduate requirement (the foundation centre accepts 5.5).

Six-to-nine-month Toefl or Ielts exam courses are popular in Malta, with many schools – EC English, ICTQ Malta, EEC-ITIS Malta Tourism & Languages Institute, Dos English Plus, Clubclass, Link English School and ECS Malta – running them. Malta Sprachcaffe has three or four Ielts and Cambridge English exam courses a year, each of ten to twelve weeks. Chamber College, European School of English and Gateway also have exam prep courses leading to the Cambridge English suite. There are some one-to-one intensive exam prep courses on offer – GV Malta, Gateway, IH Malta and Inlingua offer these. Inlingua reports more students on its one-to-one Ielts and Toefl courses of at least eight weeks. IH Malta does exam prep courses ‘at all levels’, usually as an add-on to a general English course.

There are some newcomers to the sector. ICTQ Malta has only been running its Toefl or Ielts exam courses for a year, and so far it’s only had a group of Libyan students heading for the University of Malta or those in the UK. GV Malta caters mostly for the families market, but it did run intensive Ielts and Toefl courses last year, particularly for Russian, German and Swiss nationals.

Why do students choose Malta for their academic English exam prep? The weather was cited by Malta Sprachcaffe, ICTQ Malta, IH Malta and GV Malta Gateway, while Malta’s reputation as ‘a very safe location’ was cited by Muls, European School of English, Malta Sprachcaffe, IH Malta, GV Malta and Unilang Malta.

Then there’s what EC English described as ‘a cost of living roughly 30–40 per cent less than in London’, or ‘lower costs across the board’ (Dos), ‘competitive prices’ (IH Malta and GV Malta) and ‘the low cost of living’ (both Clubclass and Unilang) as a factor. Gateway cited ‘cheaper university fees than any other European universities’.

ECS Malta, Gateway and EC Malta cited ‘history and culture’, while Muls, ICTQ and Inlingua Gateway all mentioned the islands’ reputation for ‘rigorous’ oversight in the ELT sector by Feltom and the EFL Monitoring Board. EC English referred to ‘Mediterranean hospitality’ and the ‘surprisingly good nightlife’, while ‘friendly people’ attracted Malta Sprachcaffe’s exam prep students.

Muls and European School of English reminded us of the importance of Malta being ‘English-speaking and culturally linked to the UK’, while ECS Malta also described this as a big draw. ICTQ and Link were among those that cited ‘the opportunity to speak English outside the class’.