Insights | 24 January 2024

Athena Michaelidou , Minister of Education, Sport and Youth

Our higher education institutions have gained global recognition for their academic excellence, and we are spearheading initiatives to further modernise higher education, aiming for greater flexibility, enhanced research capacities and stronger international collaborations.

How would you assess the current state of the Cyprus education sector? Was 2023 a good year and were any significant milestones reached?

In line with President Christodoulides’ governance programme, in 2023, we prioritised addressing several of our educational system’s long-standing challenges, such as the improvement of learning outcomes, so that the education provided meets the needs and interests of students, cultivation of key competences and development of creative and critical thinking, aiming at the holistic education of children, and design and implementation of up-to-date evaluation systems for students, teachers and schools. Specifically, in an effort to upgrade and modernise our educational system, as well as to improve the learning outcomes, we are already implementing a new and modern student evaluation system in Secondary Education, whilst also moving forward with the revision and update of our School Curricula.

In response to the needs of modern society, we are also working to promote the digital transformation of our school units, to improve and expand the institution of the All-Day Schools in Primary and Secondary Education, and toaddress the skills mismatch between education and the labour market. At the same time, we are developing an upgraded policy for Technical Education, and we are reorganising Higher Education.

Moreover, with targeted measures, we strive to strengthen our schools against violence and delinquency and work for the more effective integration of children with migrant biography in our educational system, as well as for the restructuring of Special Education, with an eye to moving from Special to an Inclusive Education model. Overall, it can be said that 2023 was a year during which we addressed important issues, laying the foundations for the further improvement of our educational system.

With the evolving job market and diversifying economy, how does the Ministry plan to align higher education curricula with industry demands to ensure graduates possess the skills needed to excel in today's workforce?

The Ministry of Education, Sports and Youth has set as a priority to increase the responsiveness of Cyprus’ Higher Education and training system to labour market needs. Specifically, the Department of Higher Education has proposed and undertaken, within the framework of the Recovery and Resilience Plan of the Republic of Cyprus, an important project entitled: ‘Development of a National Graduate Tracking Mechanism and Design and Implementation of an Employers’ Skills Survey’. Within the context of this project, three surveys are conducted: two national (National Graduate Tracking Survey and National Employers' Skills Survey) and one European (European Graduate Tracking Survey) to collect high-quality national data on graduates’ pathways after completing Higher Education, as well as employers’ views on the current and future needs of the labour market in terms of skills. This project will provide the evidence base to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to design new programmes of study, as well as to review and update the content and delivery of current programmes. Moreover, HEIs will be able to design and offer short, flexible and targeted programmes of study (e.g. microcredentials), in order to equip their graduates with skills and competencies that are needed by the labour market.

Over the last several years, Cyprus has seen an increase in international students seeking higher education opportunities. What has made Cyprus appealing for foreign students and what markets are key to attracting more international students? 

Situated at the crossroads of three continents, Europe, Asia and Africa, Cyprus is an ideal academic destination for international students seeking a transformative educational experience. With its diverse academic offerings, rich cultural heritage, and a vibrant, safe student life, Cyprus provides a unique setting for international students to pursue their studies in a European environment.

Cyprus is renowned for its high-quality education that meets international standards. Our higher education institutions have gained global recognition for their academic excellence, offering a wide range of diverse programmes of study taught in English, which enhance accessibility for students from various linguistic backgrounds and cater to the evolving demands of the international student community. They also offer financial support through various scholarship schemes and promote innovative teaching methods, advanced research and industry-relevant curricula, ensuring that students are prepared and equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to face the challenges of the constantly changing labour market. The government’s strategic goal is to attract quality students for Higher Education, mainly from around the region, as well as internationally.

Given the rise of online education and hybrid learning models, what strategies is the Ministry implementing to ensure the quality and accreditation of online programs offered by universities in Cyprus, balancing flexibility with academic standards?

The Cyprus Agency of Quality Assurance and Accreditation in Higher Education is the competent, independent authority responsible to safeguard standards and to support, through the procedures provided by the relevant legislation and the principles underlying the establishment of the European Higher Education Area, the continuous improvement and upgrading of higher education institutions and their programmes of study. According to the relevant law, the Agency’s competencies include, amongst others, the evaluation and accreditation of higher education institutions, their schools/departments, as well as their programmes of study, including online and hybrid programmes of study, following the European Standard Guidelines.

Cyprus aims to be a hub for research and innovation. What specific investments or incentives is the Ministry planning to promote a robust innovation and research culture within universities, attracting top talent and driving impactful research initiatives?

Our Ministry, in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance, the Deputy Ministry of Research, Innovation and Digital Policy and the Innovation Foundation, is in the final stage of promoting the amendment of the legal framework regarding public universities for the creation of spin-off companies by public universities, with the aim of maximising the impact of the investment in research and development activities for the benefit of the country’s economy and society. Furthermore, through the annual government budget, a significant amount is given each year to public universities to support research and innovation, whereas among the targets of the Deputy Ministry of Research, Innovation and Digital Policy, is also the support and funding of a significant number of Centres of Excellence in both public and private institutions of higher education. These Centres of Excellence promote cutting-edge research and innovation and they employ a considerable number of researchers.

Given the global challenges such as climate change and sustainability, what steps is the Ministry taking to incorporate environmental education and practices into the curriculum, fostering a generation equipped to address these pressing issues?

Climate change and sustainability issues are of high priority in Cyprus’ educational system, not only in formal but also in non-formal and informal education. In this context, the Ministry addresses sustainable development issues holistically, acknowledging that to support our students in becoming active, responsible, and environmentally literate citizens, educational institutions that operate as communities of learning for sustainable development are essential. As such, our efforts are focused on infusing UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in curricula of all educational levels, in an interdisciplinary way and based on our National Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and Green Transition 2030.

It is important to note that through the strategy, the Ministry undertakes reforms that are considered examples of excellence internationally. The establishment of a permanent Unit of Education for the Environment and Sustainable Development, which is responsible for integrating, monitoring and updating the national strategy, falls within this framework. Also, some of the steps that the Ministry is implementing on a long term basis are the introduction of ESD curricula in primary and pre-primary education, the creation of an accreditation scheme for schools to become sustainable and zero energy, the development of non-formal education on ESD by the Governmental Network of Environmental Education Centres, the authoring of digital education materials, the development of a series of professional development courses on ESD not only for teachers but also for school principals, and networking initiatives at national and international level for strengthening collaboration in the field of ESD.

What key opportunities are there for foreign investors in the education sector? Are there any specific projects or incentives that international investors should know about?

The development of higher education in Cyprus is a priority and an important strategic goal for the Ministry of Education, Sport and Youth. In this context, the Ministry focuses on the effort to attract investment interest in higher education, both from within Cyprus and abroad. Interested foreign investors receive all possible support from the Ministry, in the context of the relevant legislation. For example, the department of the Ministry that is responsible for higher education, provides, upon request, immediate support and information in relation to the existing legislative framework for the establishment of private universities and private institutions of tertiary education, either in writing or in meetings with interested stakeholders. In addition, the Council of Ministers recently approved an exemption for private schools with regard to the registration of children transferring to private schools in Cyprus from abroad, provided that they are following the same programme of study in their previous country of residence. Finally, the Ministry is looking into possible simplification of procedures with a view to speeding up the issuance of the necessary permits when a new private school is founded.

What are your expectations for the sector in 2024? 

Regarding school education, the expectation is to make necessary steps towards reforming the educational system into a student-centred one, with emphasis on skills and competences instead of mere knowledge, Moreover, I expect to progress the dialogue for major issues like inclusive education and all-day school. Concerning higher education in Cyprus, the sector is constantly evolving, in an effort to keep up with modern social, economic and technological data. The Ministry of Education, Sport and Youth is spearheading initiatives to further modernise higher education, aiming for greater flexibility, enhanced research capacities and stronger international collaborations. The main priority of the Ministry of Education is the interconnection of higher education with the labour market, the modernisation of the legal framework governing higher education in Cyprus and the internationalisation of higher education in Cyprus to attract foreign students, as well as young researchers.


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