Stipends – Bait or Bootless?

Maltese citizens have a multitude of safety nets to hold them up, be it free health care, children’s allowance, unemployment benefits… so on and so forth. On the government website one will find the phrase Because the Maltese government is so strongly in favour of education, it offers Student Maintenance Grant to students attending public and private schooling. If the Maltese government is indeed so invested in bettering student’s chances at education then why use such a superficial incentive such as the stipend?

Last week, during a Sociology lecture on social policy and welfare an argument arose regarding the validity of the stipend. A few students promptly claimed that 86 euros a month would not make a significant difference to their perception and choices involving their studies. Conversely, a handful of students argued that the stipend is merely a tactic used by the state to maintain its fresher voters. Perhaps this is true, however, let us rewind to 1997.



On November 5th 1997 the new Labour Government proposed the substitution of a monthly stipend to an optional loan. Imagine being told that at the end of your studies you will have to pay back every cent you received and mindlessly spent. Would you even opt for a stipend at all? Junior College and University students at the time, hand in hand with KSU, SDM and Pulse (who were actually established that same year) did their utmost to express their indignation towards this regressive implementation. Manuel Delia, president of KSU at the time, led the mass and stated the the Nationalist Party was of a higher standard than the Labour Party. In this case, Alfred Sant’s attempt at removing the capital incentive implemented by the Nationalist party in 1987 resulted in an uproar. Therefore, as the slogan firmly reinstated, “hands off our education”.



Coming back to the Maltese educational system today, which is striving to improve and ultimately churn out a number of professionals into the real world, what is the main reason which entices individuals to further their studies? My bet is that students have (thankfully) become increasingly aware that degrees and titles are what help you climb the social ladder and allow social mobility and this is why less people stop at secondary level. What about the stipend? When it was first introduced the maintenance grant was the driving force for the increase in graduates and it was undoubtedly effective. However, the part it plays in luring students to the classroom in recent years, and years to come, is questionable.


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