Cyprus’ universities are paving the way for the island to establish itself as a veritable education and knowledge hub thanks to their world-class research and innovation, as well as versatile curricula focused on meeting future market demands.
Nothing better illustrates the value Cyprus places on education than a stunning new dome-capped library, set to become the beating heart of the island’s flagship seat of learning. Designed by the Pritzker prizewinning French architect Jean Nouvel, its futuristic curves and sheer bulk dominate the University of Cyprus’ (UCY) sprawling campus in Nicosia. The university itself has a Nobel laureate on its faculty with Christopher Pissarides, a prize winner for economics in 2010. The new library will house a million printed volumes, more than 30,000 electronic titles, 150 databases and nearly 1,000 high-tech ‘study seats’ – declaring that Cyprus has come of age on the global education scene.
Hard facts prove this would be no idle boast. The island had no university until 1989 when UCY was established, yet even before that only the US and Canada had more graduates per capita. Parents made huge sacrifices to send their children to universities abroad, mostly to Greece and Britain. Today the landscape is very different, the small island is home to eight rapidly expanding universities, of which five are private, that have forged links and cooperative agreements with reputable universities across the globe.
The higher education (HE) sector has seen tremendous development and has grown by more than 80% in student numbers, exceeding 44,000 total students – including both local and foreign – during 2016/2017. Notable also is the fact that nearly half were in postgraduate programmes and most were female. Education is fast becoming a key economic sector for Cyprus as in 2016 alone it contributed between €739 million and €979 million to the local economy and was responsible for around 9,500 jobs in the HE sector and its supporting industries. In addition, the HE sector has also contributed to the country’s export revenue, with international students constituting 47% of the total in the 2016/2017 intake.
The academic reputation of Cyprus universities has also been growing, with institutions climbing up international rankings. UCY is currently among the world’s top 500 universities and the 52nd 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 88th place is another public institution, the research-focused Cyprus University of Technology (CUT/Tepak), established in Limassol in 2004 to offer subjects not covered by UCY. CUT also ranks as the world’s 16th best university with fewer than 5,000 students. 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.
An International Outlook
Although the island remains a net exporter of students, more Cypriots are now choosing to pursue higher education at home. There is stiff competition for places at Cyprus’ public universities, which enjoy growing international prestige and do not charge tuition fees for undergraduate programmes. However, UCY’s rector, Constantinos Christofides, believes that a fifth of Cypriots going into higher education should do so abroad to bring back fresh ideas and help further diversify and develop the island’s international outlook. One of UCY’s strengths, says the rector, is its professors who have studied across 40 different countries and at 100 different universities.
The public universities, which mainly instruct in Greek, have recently 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. In any case, public universities levy no charge on undergraduates from EU countries and very competitive ones for postgraduates. Now that every department has the right to teach five courses in English, UCY is confident it will increase its current intake of some 7,000 students to 13,000 by 2023, with 4,000 of them being foreign.
Meanwhile, underlining the state’s commitment to lifelong learning is the government-funded Open University (OU), founded in 2002 and which now has some 5,000 students. It has flexible, modular learning programmes that provide career and personal development opportunities for students already in the workplace. The OU offers four bachelor’s degree programmes, 22 at master’s level – five of which are available in English – and 13 PhD programmes.
A Brave New World
Whether private or public, 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 as a growing energy centre in the East Med.
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, the University of Nicosia (UNIC), an independent institution, 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 market estimated anywhere between €1-4 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 the rapidly changing field of cyber security.
Trail-Blazing Medical Schools
Medical schools have become a considerable success story in Cyprus. A decade ago, the country had none, today three Cypriot universities have medical schools that are proving popular with both local and international students. The main attraction is that 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 quality 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. It is attracting students from Cyprus, Greece and other European countries.
Following suit, EUC established a medical school three 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 four years ago and will graduate its first students in the summer of 2019. This year it will offer 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.
Attracting Foreign Students
The number of overseas students at the island’s accredited universities soared from fewer than 400 in the 2004-5 academic year to 13,500 in 2015-16, with nearly half enrolled in postgraduate programmes. To compare, there were just over 19,000 Cypriot students at these universities. Some 50% of overseas students were from Greece, but the range of countries that foreign students come from is rapidly expanding. For example, the 650 students at UNIC’s two medical schools come from 58 countries.
The potential for further growth and foreign investment is reflected in the building boom underway at most universities as existing departments are expanded, new ones created, and further halls of residence constructed, some resembling five-star hotels. 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.
Another major attraction for students from non-EU countries is that they get a value-for-money education and acquire qualifications recognised by the bloc’s members and validated by accreditation agencies in many other countries. But it is the high academic standards rather than affordability attracting a growing number of students from far-flung, prosperous countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The universities measure their success not just by the numbers of students but by their quality, and they compete with good universities in Britain and others in the West, rather than those in Cyprus’ immediate geographical region.
Yet the island’s location as the EU’s eastern-most outpost and bridge to Africa and Asia 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 nine years ago, built near Larnaca at a cost of €53 million.
Both independent studies and university administrators agree that Cyprus could attract even more foreign students if the cumbersome visa application for non-EU nationals is overhauled. 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.
Investing in The Young
The success of the island’s universities is matched by its private secondary schools, which mostly offer an English-language education and boast high academic standards. Many of their pupils win places at the best universities in Britain, the United States and many other countries. The oldest of these is the English School in Nicosia, established in 1900 to provide English-speaking clerical staff for the British colonial administration. Today, many of its alumni hold senior positions in the government and private sector. There are numerous private schools across Cyprus following different curricula – British and American systems as well as International Baccalaureate – and offering education in various languages, such as Greek, English, Russian and French, to cater to the ever-expanding community of professional expatriates and their families on the island. In addition, although the generously-funded Greek-speaking public secondary schools have to date not performed as well, they are also now set to improve after a recent government overhaul of an outdated system for recruiting teachers.
Innovative Education Hub
A small but ambitious and entrepreneurial island, Cyprus has always valued and invested heavily in education. at investment is rapidly paying off. Confident and outward looking, Cyprus’ universities are enriching the island’s human capital and enhancing its attractions as an international hub for business and education. Their innovative drive is remarkable. For example, although UCY currently relies on the state for 50% of its funding, it aims to become financially independent by developing businesses, start-ups and spin-offs from its IT companies and projects in fields such as energy and agriculture. UCY recently created the island’s biggest organic carob plantation in Paphos and is using the produce for research and to make medicines, foods and alcoholic drinks in conjunction with local and foreign rms. 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 determined to carve a slice of this pie by continuously developing its educational offering in a bid to secure a seat in this sector globally. Cyprus really is making its mark in the fast-changing global education scene – and the future is looking very bright.
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