National Statistics Office figures show that the number of Gozitan students attending Tertiary Education institutions in Malta nowadays amounts to over one thousand. This number has been increasing steadily over the last few years. The great majority of these students attend courses at the University of Malta, while there is also a good number attending courses at MCAST and ITS.
Most of these students require rental property in Malta for accommodation purposes, with Msida, Gzira and Swatar being the most sought-after areas.
A combination of factors, including demographic and social changes made the renting of property in these areas more challenging over the last decade. The tenant population in Malta has risen significantly in recent years, due to reasons ranging from a more atomistic outlook among the local population, increase in family breakdowns and migration inflows, with several foreign workers moving to Malta at both end of the skill distribution.
The Regional Statistics 2019 published by NSO provides interesting insights on the percentage change in population between 2011 and 2017, per locality. The population in Sliema, Gzira and Msida, together with Bugibba experienced the sharpest increase, around 30%, with the number of foreigners in the same localities increasing by over 25%.
These factors pushed the price of property upwards with an average increase of around 8% since 2014. The same is true for rent. An unweighted average of the increase of rents over the last decade points towards an average of over 5% per year.
An unweighted average of the increase of rents over the last decade points towards an average of over 5% per year.
Higher rental prices inevitably impact the affordability of accommodation. Estimates on the net earnings points towards a situation whereby an average Gozitan household will find it difficult to afford the rent that needs to be paid for accommodation in the vicinity of institutions offering tertiary education. For example, a family of two earners, one at 100% of average wage and the other on 33%, would have spent around 40% of their yearly income to pay for a two-bedroom apartment.
Over the last years, the Government intervened to support Gozitan students in renting out property in Malta while studying. One such scheme was the “Grant Payable to Malta Resident Students Following Full-Time Courses in Gozo”. Under this scheme, students residing in Gozo and who follow full-time courses in Malta can apply for a Government subsidy of €500 per quarter during the academic year, that is for a total of €1500 each scholastic year. This scheme is open to all residents in Gozo who are following full-time courses in Malta at the Institute of Tourism Studies, MCAST and courses under the Malta Government Undergraduate Scheme. This subsidy is also given to Gozitan students attending private Higher Education Institutions in Malta.
Another scheme is “Additional financial assistance to Gozitan Students”, which is more restrictive. Apart from having the same eligible criteria, it requires certain conditions in terms of renting. The benefit is the difference between the rent paid and the €900 (per student up to a maximum of three students per apartment) per school year. There is also a lease capping of €600 per month for an apartment that accommodates three adults; €500 per month in the case of an apartment accommodating two adults; €400 for an apartment accommodating one adult.
Investing in students means investing in tomorrow’s resources. As a nation, we have little else in terms of assets apart from human resources. This is even more applicable in the case of Gozo. Economic development can only be improved in value and productivity by investing in people.
Although the pandemic has pushed us to shift towards remote learning, this will never substitute the benefits of campus-based learning, especially the social capital that one acquires through relationships built in tertiary education. The pandemic has also impacted rent prices, by either slowing their growth rate or even pushing them down, in the short to medium term.
That said, support to Gozitan students in furthering their studies remains crucial today and tomorrow.