The University of Malta, founded by Jesuits in 1592 to produce the island's own lawyers and priests, is braced for rapid change as accession to the European Union moves from distant aspiration to fast-approaching reality.
Godfrey Baldacchino, director of the university's workers' participation and development centre, said: "The impact of eventual accession to the EU is on the mind of most university policy-makers."
The university's biggest worry is a potential deluge of students from the EU. "European students are keen to study at a reputable English-speaking university with such a salubrious climate and relatively cheap living costs, mild winters and no fuel bills. Are we about to be invaded?"
Professor Baldacchino asked.
The university has some 500 foreign students. However, concern has arisen because as local students do not pay any fees it is possible that European students will also be exempt on the principle of non-discrimination, turning the deluge into a tidal wave.
Joseph Mifsud, head of the university's European unit, sees no obvious way of charging external students for a Maltese education. "The university currently does not have a fee structure for Maltese students. The same would apply for those from European countries."
A successful Erasmus programme within Socrates already allows Maltese students to spend between a semester and a year in a partner European institution and vice versa. The increase in student numbers following likely accession to the EU in 2003 could, however, be much more dramatic.
"Because of the EU non-discrimination rule, once Malta becomes an EU member, students from EU countries will be charged fees only if Maltese students are also charged fees," said Joanna Drake, former lecturer in EU law at the university and chair of Malta's "Yes Movement" for EU membership.
"As regards the 'deluge' problem, it must be remembered that student-to-tutor ratios are already very high. The university has limited facilities and it would be justified in limiting new intakes, perhaps even reserving a number of places for Maltese students on the basis that the university is the only institute of tertiary learning available on the island," she added.