News the American University of Beirut, one of the region’s oldest and most prestigious institutions, is contemplating a Cyprus campus, more so in Paphos, proves education could play a pivotal role in developing a sustainable economy.
Some sectors of activity, such as agriculture and the clothing-footwear industries, have dwindled due to rapid changes sweeping across the world, making way for new trends and services.
That said, there is a growing trend to produce quality crops in small quantities that will have an affordable yield based on demand.
Even wine and halloumi, once packaged and marketed as low-cost items, have now acquired premium status, becoming multi-million exports, thanks mainly to private initiative.
The benefit is multi-fold; promoting the ‘made in Cyprus’ label alone has a greater impact when attracting investors in other areas– from hi-tech to property.
Tourism, which impacts almost all sectors of the economy, is still struggling to find a niche segment.
Unsure whether this should be low-cost vacations that fill up hotel beds or a premium product that will benefit more from the increased spending of each holidaymaker.
Even education and health services were promoted in the past as ‘new investment opportunities’ with little help from the state when it came to overcoming red tape, a slow-moving government machine, and laid-back mentalities in banking and insurance.
What has been achieved in these areas is mainly due to progressive minded individuals, as seen by the firm groundwork laid by the shipping community, a constantly evolving sector where the general interest has been placed above personal benefits and petty politics.
Education now has the opportunity to become the next darling of the economy, as financial services and the cash-for-passports schemes were not forwarding-thinking programmes, judging from the competition Cyprus has been unable to match from other jurisdictions.
It brings us back to education, especially higher education.
Primary and secondary learning have a long way to go before emulating the successes of central and northern European schools, where cultivating future good citizens and thinkers is the main objective, not just mechanical work in the classrooms.
The University of Cyprus, during its three decades, has evolved from a state institution serving short-term local needs to a world-standard centre, where research is fast gaining ground thanks to the diverse minds of a handful of rectors who helped attract millions in funding.
This, in turn, had a chain effect on other universities in Cyprus, each institution seeking to play a unique role in a global ‘market’ with new schools from energy to maritime and digital finance to digital art.
The mayor of Paphos, who continues to build strong foundations for his town and the district, has seen the light and realised the benefits from having not one but three universities based there, with an impact on all sectors of the economy, most important being efforts to put an end to the ‘brain drain’ exacerbated by the economic crisis.
Importing knowledge and professors from leading institutions will also help cultivate better individuals, thinkers even, while issues of diversity and gaps in gender and pay, or even cultural and digital divides, will be easier to overcome.
Education is the future.
With better education, Cyprus and Cypriots will determine their future.