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Ensuring scholarships for excellence

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What should have been a smooth parliamentary process this week to approve the annual budget of the Cyprus State Scholarships Foundation rekindled an old argument about what defines academic excellence and who deserves reward.

Although the budget was finally approved unanimously, speakers took the opportunity to let off steam due to the upcoming presidential elections, some trying to score populist points with potential voters, others criticising the incumbent administration for discriminating among the haves and have-nots.

The MP for opposition AKEL sparked the debate, saying the Foundation had a surplus of €2 mln and that this amount should have been distributed in grants to excellent yet needy students.

Of course, the MP did not miss the opportunity to say, most assuredly, that this will be resolved after the February elections when a new, progressive administration is elected.

Unfortunately, the discussion, although somewhat contained and mostly civilised, then spun off in a different direction, unrelated to the activities of the Foundation, and tried to revive the argument of state versus private institutions.

Some people believe that only the rich go to private schools and the poor, yet academically superior, go to state schools.

To them, keeping this “us vs them” rivalry is good for votes and will do anything to keep the debate alive, as stupid as it may seem.

In fact, throughout the 20th century, many private primary and high schools have provided scholarships, which, over time, became a tool for political influence rather than encouraging bright students to get a high-quality education.

On the other hand, there are a handful of state schools with a long history and a proud legacy where there is such great demand that students are enrolled purely on achievement, regardless of household income or bias.

And that is what the State Scholarships Foundation does and should continue to do.

It rewards students with a 20/20 grade, or at least 19.5, to help them get into some of the leading universities at home or abroad.

Perhaps, some regulations need tweaking, or requirements need a general overhaul.

The outcome is what matters that Cypriot students with excellent grades should have the opportunity to study at some of the best universities in the world, be they in Nicosia, Berlin, London, or Boston.

Procedures must be more transparent, simple, and inclusive rather than exclusive to invest in our brightest students.

They are this country’s future and must be given every opportunity to excel.

Those who live in mediaeval times and thrive on stoking rivalries should not have been elected in the first place.