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Cyprus universities have huge prospects for growth and excellence

10 February, 2019 | Posted By: FinancialMirror Guest

By Dr. George Demosthenous

There seems to be a consensus that the tertiary education sector in Cyprus has huge prospects for growth and excellence. When I say tertiary education, I am mainly referring to universities as I believe these are the organisations that have the capacity for sustainable growth and international presence.


A recent study by Ernst & Young (EY) in which all universities, public and private, participated, indicates the vast contribution universities have to the social and economic progress and development. Not only is there significant and growing direct contribution to the economy through the attraction of international students, but there is also a huge indirect impact through peripheral economic development and possibly, more importantly, through the creation of a highly educated society.

The growth of the sector also offers high-caliber work positions in Cyprus, something that very few sectors can boast, and equally importantly, the education sector is a sustainable economy whose growth has minimal impact to the environment – a key concern in our current world.  Furthermore, we must not forget that increasing the number of international students would create thousands of ‘Cypriot ambassadors’ all over the world.

Advances in educational technologies and the adoption of distance learning practices in our universities gives us a further scope for growth and development without the limits of geographical constraints.

So, I think it is only logical to focus on the strategy of becoming a regional educational centre within the next five years. I think it is definitely within realistic plans to double our international students and increase the number of Cypriot students retained in Cypriot universities.

Of course, this is easier said than done. We have to realistically face the many challenges that lie ahead. Firstly, we must ensure that there is adequate and transparent support for quality education by the state. I emphasise the word ‘quality’, something that I will revisit further down.

At present, there is the will to support universities but, especially in relation to private universities, little has materialised. A serious challenge we face is that Cyprus is relatively unknown as an education destination and unfortunately in a lot of cases that it is well known, this is not for the best reasons. Furthermore, our institutions are relatively small, so it is difficult to obtain international recognition – here I am not referring to academic recognition but rather recognition by the general public in various countries; everybody knows about Oxford, how many know anything about Cypriot universities? To this end, I think it is important that Cypriot universities endeavour in the establishment of collaborations with world-renowned educational institutions. I believe this is not as difficult as it sounds.

 

State help and promotion

There are several challenges that need to be address if we are to achieve our goals. I am happy to say that these issues are discussed and are positively received by the authorities, and I am optimistic that through collaboration and dialogue a lot can be resolved. I list a few that I think are central to the success of our endeavour:

·  There needs to be an international promotion of Cyprus as an educational centre through a well-designed national policy. Globally, the efforts should not be from individual universities to try to attract quality students, but a platform that shows that this is a comprehensive strategy.

  • We must have an effective system for the issue of student entry visas and student work permits for real students from developing countries. We cannot compete internationally with European countries and countries like Australia if this is not properly addressed. Otherwise we will discourage quality students.
  • The government should develop a comprehensive strategic policy for the quality promotion and continuous upgrading of tertiary education. This should also be done efficiently so that it does not impede the well-meaning growth of universities.
  • The Session of the Cyprus Rectors’ conference should cooperate with the government on all educational issues.
  • Education should be dealt with as a major national issue free of political ideologies.

 

Does Brexit affect plans?

Definitely, Brexit is a key issue not only in Cyprus but throughout the European Union. The truth is that no one knows whether we will have a hard Brexit or no Brexit at all, nor can anyone really anticipate the immediate and medium-term impact of any eventuality.

Having said this, I do not think that Cypriot universities base their strategy on any possible “Brexit dividend”. Obviously, it is logical to expect that a significant number of Cypriots that currently choose the UK for their studies will be reconsidering, as they will no longer have an EU degree. Furthermore, for several international students Cyprus will become more attractive as an educational destination since it will offer EU programmes of study in English.

Maybe the most important impact would be the limit of the proliferation of franchised UK degrees in Cyprus which I feel may not offer the best service to the higher education setting in Cyprus.

Overall, I want to stress that it is not wise to overemphasise the Brexit dimension in relation to our strategy and our future. Whatever the case, I don’t think that the UK will cease to have top rated universities, nor stop to be a key destination for higher education.

 

Issues and concerns

The key to everything is quality. No sector, especially one as competitive as education, can go far without focusing in quality. This is why I emphasise the importance of improving continually the quality level of the services we offer at all dimensions, be it academic teaching, research, liaising with the industry and social contribution. Here I think it is central to ensure that a proper support for the work of DIPAE, the Cyprus agency of quality assurance and accreditation in higher education, is crucial.

Furthermore, there needs to be a comprehensive educational strategy that includes both public and private universities. It must be well understood that the university environment in Cyprus is and should be common. This was evident in the recent session of the Rectors’ Conference and we see that the collaboration of all universities reaps tangible benefits to the universities themselves, but also to society at large.

Linked to this is the strengthening of the collaboration between the State and the universities in order to ensure that common goals are achieved.

 

Professor George Demosthenous is Chair of the Cyprus Rectors' Conference, Rector of Frederick University and a former Minister of Education