The Cyprus education sector has seen a veritable boom in the last few years. It has become a key sector the country is determined to further develop and promote with the goal of establishing Cyprus as an international education and research centre of excellence. The country’s universities are competing with each other in introducing new programmes to fit future industries, building state-of-the-art facilities and developing strong partnerships with renowned universities and institutions around the world.
Cyprus has always placed strong focus on educating its population. Public spending on education and training was around 5.7% of GDP in 2018, well above the EU average of 4.6%. Cyprus also has the second-highest tertiary educational attainment rate in the EU at 57.1% – clearly surpassing the EU average of 40.7% – and at 64.4% women have a considerably higher attainment rate than men at 49.2%, according to the European Commission.
Naturally there is still room for improvement in the outcomes and efficiency, but with the increasing number of Cypriots choosing to enrol in local universities instead of going abroad, and with the growing number of foreign students choosing Cyprus, it is clear that the quality and versatility of the country’s higher education offering is a strong pull factor.
A Growing Sector
The island’s first university – the University of Cyprus (UCY) – was established as recently as 1989, yet even before that only the US and Canada had more graduates per capita as Cypriots sent their children to universities abroad. Today the landscape is vastly different with eight rapidly expanding universities, five of which are private, that have forged links and cooperative agreements with reputable universities across the globe.
Cyprus has steadily established itself as a hub for quality higher education (HE). Over the last decade, the sector has grown by more than 80% in student numbers, exceeding 47,000 students during 2017-2018. In 2016 alone the education sector is estimated to have contributed around €900 million to the local economy and was responsible for approximately 9,500 jobs in HE and its supporting industries.
The number of foreign students choosing Cyprus for their studies has almost tripled in the last five years, representing over 60 different countries and supporting the growth of Cyprus into a true global educational centre. A major attraction for students from non-EU countries is that compared to many other countries, Cyprus offers a value-for-money education and qualifications recognised by EU members and validated by accreditation agencies of various countries. But more than affordability, it is the high academic standards that are attracting a growing number of students from prosperous countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia and even New Zealand.
The number of overseas students at the island’s accredited universities soared from fewer than 400 in the 2004-2005 academic year to 17,601 in 2015-16, and exceeded 50,000 in 2018-19. Some 50% of overseas students were from Greece and the EU, but the range of countries that foreign students come from is rapidly expanding. A 2018 EY report estimated that if the current level of HE activity in Cyprus is sustained and complemented by a moderate growth in international students and research expenditure, the sector’s economic contribution could grow by a further €400 million by 2023.
Climbing Up the Rankings
The academic reputation of Cyprus universities has also been growing, with institutions climbing up international rankings. UCY is currently among the world’s top 400 universities and the 67th best of institutions that are under 50 years old, according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, an influential data provider in Britain that assesses university performance globally. In 63rd place is another public institution, the research-focused Cyprus University of Technology (CUT/Tepak), established in Limassol in 2004. CUT is also ranked as the 17th best university in the world with fewer than 5,000 students in 2019. In addition, Cyprus claimed two of the top three spots on the ‘New Europe’ table of the best research-intensive universities within the 13 nations that have joined the EU since 2004, in which CUT ranked first for citation impact, while UCY led on industry income and international outlook measures.
Both UCY and the University of Nicosia (UNIC) have received great accolades in the 2020 QS World University Rankings in the Emerging Europe and Central Asia (EECA) Region, with UCY making it to the top 100, at 96th place and UNIC close behind at 106th. The landmark ranking success of both universities is noteworthy in a region characterised by dynamic growth in higher education, particularly when contrasted against the large number of universities counted in the broader EECA region, which includes 26 countries. UNIC was also ranked the 42nd university in the world in the core area of quality education, according to the 2020 Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings and among the top 301-400 universities globally in terms of its overall social and economic impact.
Building its international reputation and facilitating greater prospects for development, in 2020 UNIC signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of London, one of the largest universities in the UK. This marks the highest international recognition of UNIC, furthering its strategy to enhance cross-border education.
So far, 2020 has been a challenging year for many countries and sectors due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Cyprus acted early and fast, and has managed to contain the spread successfully, but there is no doubt the lockdown has also affected the education sector. However, despite having to undergo a major transformation in a short period of time, education in Cyprus quickly switched to digital, facilitating distance learning, a testament to the dedication of experts aiming to provide top quality learning to students both in government and private schools as well as higher education institutions.
Universities across the island were working around the clock to ensure their students did not fall behind on any material, quickly shifting their teaching online, allowing international students to return back to their home countries while enabling them to continue with the same standard of education. Preparations were also made for exams to take place online, ensuring this did not come at a cost to quality.
Cyprus’ impressive handling of the pandemic is also highlighted in the island’s forward planning. As far as the upcoming academic year is concerned, many institutions have already prepared to offer teaching on campus and online for students who may be unable to travel until the situation becomes clearer.
There is stiff competition for places at Cyprus’ public universities, which enjoy growing international prestige and levy no charge on undergraduates from EU countries and very competitive fees for postgraduates. However, many Cypriots continue to choose to study abroad, a trend that has long ensured fresh ideas are successfully imported back to Cyprus with returning local talent. This international outlook has been increasingly strengthened with the growing number of both international students and faculty at universities.
The public universities, which mainly instruct in Greek, have persuaded the government to allow them to offer more courses in English to attract more foreign students. Unlike the private universities, which teach mostly in English, their aim is not to generate revenue through tuition fees but to ensure they become truly international.
Underlining the state’s commitment to lifelong learning is the government-funded Open University (OU), founded in 2002 and which now has over 4,000 students. It has flexible, modular learning programmes that provide career and personal development opportunities for students already in the workplace. The OU developed 37 programmes of study for the 2020-2021 academic year. The official teaching language is Greek, but currently offers five Master programmes in English.
All of Cyprus’ universities design programmes to meet current business trends and future employment needs. Many of these focus on the island’s status as one of the world’s leading shipping centres and the discovery of significant gas reserves in Cypriot waters.
UCY’s new Larnaca-based Faculty of Marine Sciences and Technology began its first classes in 2018, all in English, and according to Lloyd’s Register, is set to provide the local and global maritime industry with high-quality human capital and research capabilities. In 2016, UNIC launched the Cyprus Maritime Academy, which collaborates with renowned shipping companies and supports the local industry by providing qualified crew. UNIC also offers the island’s first BSc programme in energy, oil and gas management and was the first university in the world to accept Bitcoin for tuition payments and to offer a master’s degree course in digital currency, available in English both on campus and online.
Online higher education is a significant and still relatively untapped opportunity for Cyprus, with the potential value of the global market estimated anywhere between €1 billion to €4 billion, for which Cyprus will be competing against anglophone countries such as Australia, Singapore, and Ireland.
The European University of Cyprus (EUC), a private institution also in Nicosia, offers a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering, a course which incorporates the impact on construction of climate change and earthquake risk.
Frederick University, based in Nicosia and Limassol, is also attempting to maximise the potential of Cyprus’ natural geographical advantages. Its existing course in maritime studies now offers a new combined MA/LLM master’s degree in maritime law and shipping business. Meanwhile, the University of Central Lancashire Cyprus (UCLan Cyprus) offers a degree in cyber security.
A key aspect of the rapid development and recognition of Cyprus universities has been the strategic partnerships they have forged with top institutions around the world. For example, UCY’s successful collaboration with London’s Imperial College – ranked one of the 10 best universities in the world – is set to be expanded this year with a new MSc programme that began in September 2019 to teach highly innovative and intelligent systems from emerging ICT to tackle challenges in monitoring, control and security in critical infrastructure systems. The collaboration of the two institutions in several research projects has already produced more than 900 joint publications over the last five years.
Cyprus’ public and private universities, all part of the Erasmus programme, have rapidly expanded their offering and continue to forge new links and collaborative agreements with renowned universities abroad. Distance learning is another growth area, with UNIC a pioneer in this field. Its medical schools offer busy working doctors worldwide the opportunity to take master’s degrees online in family medicine and in public health.
Medical schools are a relatively new and growing aspect of the Cyprus educational sphere. In the last decade, Cyprus has gone from no medical schools to three programmes offered by Cypriot universities. These are proving popular with both local and international students, as academic standards in Cyprus rival those of well-established British and American medical schools and students graduate with qualifications recognised across the EU and beyond.
UNIC, which established the island’s first medical school in 2011, did so in partnership with London University and its prestigious teaching hospital, St George’s. It offers a four-year programme for graduate-level entry students, knowing this would appeal particularly to students from the US, which is the world’s biggest exporter of medical students, but also to regional markets such as Israel and Lebanon which have decent numbers of graduate-entry students. UNIC has since launched a second medical school, with a six-year programme for high school leavers. The approximately 650 students at UNIC’s two medical schools come from almost 60 countries, proving its international appeal.
Following suit, EUC established a medical school four years ago with a six-year course that has attracted students from Israel, Germany, Iran, Austria, Greece and Cyprus, among others. In 2017, it also launched a dentistry school. The mostly state-funded UCY established its medical school six years ago and graduated its first students in 2019. It also offers parallel courses in English to cater to 100 students a year.
Cyprus’ main competition for medical students comes from eastern and central European countries where tuition fees and living costs are often lower, and some of the universities have hundreds of years of heritage. However, many of these universities sign up overseas students knowing that after four years they cannot provide enough clinical training slots for all students to complete their courses. Whereas, according to UCY all the medical schools in Cyprus operate on the basis of having clinical training spots for all students right from the beginning.
Investing in Education
The location of Cyprus as the EU’s easternmost outpost and bridge to Asia and Africa also gives Cyprus a natural advantage in attracting overseas students and investment from foreign universities. For example, keen to recruit more students from Russia, the Middle East and China, the aforementioned British UCLan chose Cyprus as the site for its very first overseas campus almost a decade ago, built near Larnaca at a cost of €53 million. The potential for further growth and foreign investment is reflected in the building boom of the last few years of universities expanding and creating new departments, building new luxury and high-tech accommodation to house increasing numbers of students with facilities unlike anything seen in Europe so far, featuring rooftop pools, restaurants, gyms and private gardens. For example, the UNIC residences are the result of a €60 million investment constituting the largest university infrastructure investment to date in Cyprus – and once completed claims to be one of the most functional student hubs in Europe.
However, in order to maintain the momentum of attracting foreign students Cyprus must improve its cumbersome visa application for non-EU nationals. Otherwise, the universities have few complaints and value the government’s assistance in forging new academic and research links and organising visits from international accreditation agencies.
The global market for anglophone higher education geared at internationally mobile students is estimated to be up to €50 billion, and it is growing at 5% per year. Cyprus is well placed to capitalise on this provided it continues to develop its educational offering. Part of this effort is the government’s dedication to support this sector along with its investment promotion agency, Invest Cyprus, who in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Cypriot universities launched a new campaign in 2019 branded ‘Study in Cyprus’. The campaign is a concerted effort to promote Cyprus as an educational centre of excellence and provide information on studying, living and working in Cyprus.
Cyprus has always valued, and continues to invest in, education and today the innovative drive of Cyprus’ universities is enriching the island’s human capital and enhancing its attraction as an international centre for business and education. With expanding global links, spin-off projects and business ventures in multiple sectors, these institutions are bringing together a multinational and multidisciplinary community that is supporting the development of Cyprus into a veritable knowledge hub.
For more information, contact Cyprus' investment promotion agency, Invest Cyprus.
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