The Mediterranean island of Malta has witnessed an influx of Kuwaiti students in the last few years.
The Kuwaiti government has set up a scholarship agreement with the University of Malta to sponsor students for the period of their study.
Kuwait established diplomatic relations with the European country three decades ago. However, the university link was set up by Roger Ellul Micallef, who worked in Kuwait between 1978 and 1982, first as an associate professor at the University of Kuwait and later as chairman of that university's Department of Pharmacology, according to a report in the Malta Times.
In an interview with Al Arabiya Anna Caterina Callus, Deputy Director International & EU Office at the University of Malta said: “The scholarship agreement started off with a smaller group of students at the medical school. Now over the last few years an agreement has been set up with the Kuwaiti authorities which has opened up more subjects giving students much more access to the university programs.”
The Faculty of Medicine and Surgery has 12 departments responsible for all the teaching and training of medical and pharmacy students at the University of Malta. The university’s website states that the faculty has several ongoing research projects which are funded by both local and foreign grants.
“The system provides a pre-foundation course which helps them improve their levels of English, sciences and other required courses. The university also has a medical foundation course to prepare the students for medicine and surgery and dentistry,” Callus added.
The University has 1,000 international students who make up 10 percent of the total 11,000 student population. About 160 students are from Kuwait and they are enrolled in a number of courses.
“The majority of Kuwaiti students are in the medical and surgery programs. However, over the years more students have been enrolling in other courses such as commerce, architecture, mechanical engineering and communications,” said Callus.
The medical school at the University is not only popular for Kuwaiti students but students from all around the world; the majority of them hail from Europe.
The national language of Malta is Maltese, a language descended from Siculo-Arabic an Arabic dialect that initially developed in Sicily in the ninth century and later in Malta in the 13th century. Arab speakers find it easy to adapt and understand Maltese and have no problems getting along with the locals. However, the university programs are provided in English.
“Although we are European we are very Mediterranean. Our history is very Semitic, with the language and even food. The culture shock is not that great. Students who come here even the ones from Kuwait stay here throughout the course because they settle here comfortably.”
Hussain H. Karam, a Kuwaiti medical student studying at the Malta University told Al Arabiya he chose to study in the Mediterranean island rather than the other universities offering medical degrees for several reasons.
“[The] UK requires a high school GPA of 98 percent and my GPA is only 92 percent. Also, at Malta University, the course is a six-year program while in the UK it’s seven and I already lost a year studying medicine in Kuwait and I want to graduate,” said Karam.
Karam said his experience in Malta has been positive and believes more Arab students should attend the University.
“My English is much better, I can live my life independently and I learned how to adapt in any environment. I recommend students from other Gulf countries to check out Malta, but they should know it's tougher than Kuwait University,” he added.
Callus said several types of support is available to students whether they need help with applications or feel homesick:
“The University has welfare offices in the international department with designated welfare officers for students from around the world such as Asia, U.S., Canada and the Gulf. They handle students’ needs and offer them support.”
Students from the Gulf say they sometimes travel miles away from their homes to attend universities in hope to ensure a bright future after graduation.
Malta is relatively inexpensive in comparison to other popular student locations such as mainland Europe and the US, UK and Australia. However, the quality and standard of living is high. The country is rich with culture, history, fine cuisine and social activities.