Cyprus Editorial: And the brain drain continues…

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Ten years ago, President Tassos Papadopoulos had pledged his government’s commitment to turning Cyprus into a knowledge-based economy and to render the island a regional centre of excellence for educational services.

At the time, he was addressing the trustees of the Cyprus Research and Educational Foundation (CREF), that was later to become the Cyprus Institute, telling them that the government’s target was to direct funds towards research, that would reach the EU level of 1% of GDP by 2010.
Since then, we joined the Eurozone, banking greed kicked in, corruption in government and among political parties reached its peak, the bloated public payroll continued to grow unabated, and, of course, the economy collapsed. As a result, the EU target as set out by the Lisbon Agenda was never achieved and research funding started to recede.
Today, the Cyprus Institute, despite all its financial difficulties, has produced some commendable work, at a fraction of its budget. The University of Cyprus, on the other hand, has survived on a sustainability budget, yet managed to tap into European grants and secured private funding from benevolent donors and a handful of wealthy families. But that is where the buck stopped.
Secondary schools are advertising that they provide ‘premium education’, but they are not schools of excellence. Public school reforms announced last week (that barely made it through parliament) aim to improve some of the ills that the indifferent teachers have established as their God given right, as only they seem to know what is best for the education and guidance of our future generations.
Apart from the state technical schools, where in many cases the entry level has been purposely lowered to ensure a fair number of admissions, there is no other vocational training that will cater to both the white collar and blue collar jobs in the near future.
The HTI was abolished a long time ago, which is why we don’t have decent electricians and technicians; the school of maritime engineering was shut down, which has been partly replaced by the private colleges and TEPAK in Limassol, the Forestry College was given the chop, due to “lack of interest”, but nothing was done to keep it going and raise it to become an international school of environmental studies. (Note: even our local tree-huggers had nothing to say, probably because the potential votes were insignificant.)
Education should have been the cornerstone of our economic recovery and investment in this sector should have been increased, instead of reviving the public payroll in order to re-admit people into the civil service, just because we’re 12 months away from the next elections. The government statistics suggest that we have growth, which seems invisible to Joe Public, but unemployment is doggedly high and difficult to rein in, as a result of which the brain drain continues, with young talents and brilliant minds seeking jobs in Europe, America and some other faraway economies, not to return.
The number of start-ups can be counted on the fingers of single hand, mainly because of lack of funding, as banks are fearful of taking a risk, while state funds for incubator programmes have almost vanished into thin air.
Perhaps the only success story we can boast was the UCy decision to start a medical school, despite initial concerns, but the unions refuse to transform the general hospital into a university hospital, ad do not see the multiple benefits the economy and the health sector in general would gain.
Unless investment returns to education, nothing will improve, no matter what subsidies and pocket money to give jobs to the long-term unemployed. Job creation is simply not there.