By Andria Kades
THE Republic of Cyprus is lagging way behind the north’s ability to attract foreign students hosting a maximum of 8,500, while the occupied areas boast a 75,000 strong foreign student body hailing from the same countries, despite charging similar fees.
The diversity in the numbers is primarily due to the complicated and bureaucratic procedure third world country students have to endure in order to enrol and study here, chairman of the association of accredited colleges (SAISTEK) Pambos Neophytou told the Cyprus Mail on Thursday.
“In the north, the procedure to enter is very simple. All they need is a simple photocopy and a stamp,” while government controlled areas require a thick file of documentation certified by the applicant’s foreign ministry and screened by the Cyprus embassy or consulate in that country before the papers arrive here, after which they are taken to the Civil Registry.
At that stage “state employees become detectives, special forces police that examine if the documents are valid or not.”
Following this procedure, the documents are then handed over to the migration department and then the education ministry.
In the meantime, they are “completely disregarding the law that stipulates if someone finds that the documents do not meet the necessary requirements they need to inform the potential student in adequate time,” so they can re-submit any missing documents.
“They don’t inform, they don’t do anything and they say they don’t have enough time. There are still student applications that are pending. The courses have started and students haven’t arrived yet.”
Outright rejecting the idea that due to the large volume of foreign students, colleges might turn a blind eye to the procedures they have to follow – monitoring attendance and reporting those who do not attend classes regularly, who are then deported – chairman of the association of private tertiary education institutions (PASISTE) Marios Americanos said the rules are strictly adhered to.
In terms of the student demographics, both parts of the island attract individuals from the same regions, the most popular being India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Ghana, he added, a trend that is seen globally, not just in Cyprus.
According to Americanos, the extent to which colleges depend on foreign students varies with some operating on an 80 per cent local student basis but others on 60 per cent foreigners.
However, Neophytou said that put simply, local private colleges are largely dependent on these students.
“All colleges depend on foreign students. Cyprus does not have enough students to keep colleges running,” but they need to, in order to boost research and education on the island.
“If you look at the north, a third of their two and a half billion budget comes from the education sector.”
As far as comparisons go, the occupied areas are looking to increase their number of foreign students to 100,000 by 2020 according to Americanos, from their current 75,000, which represents a third of the north’s gross national product.
Another issue here is the racism foreign students face which is “abhorrently despicable.”
Neophytou said the way they are treated is racist in every possible aspect and has the backing of the law as they are excluded from receiving their social insurance payments.
“Students have three hour classes and then they are allowed to work. They work the worst jobs, cleaners, at farms, things Cypriots don’t do anymore.”
“The employer pays them social insurance, but the student is not allowed to receive that money so it stays in the fund.”
“Let a Cypriot go do that kind of work. Do you know what it’s like seeing a student born in the 1990s going to clean out farms?”
Neophytou, who backed Interior minister Socrates Hasikos in the controversy that went public on Wednesday with auditor general Odysseas Michaelides, said the minister had been innovative with the new system he implemented following the decline of foreign students in 2009-2014, simplifying the procedure.
Foreign students are required to have €7,000 to come to Cyprus, €4,500 which will be paid to the college in advance and €2,500 that they should have in cash when arriving at the airport. There are also ‘safety nets’ of a certain level of education students must meet in order to be accepted to higher education institutions here.
The issue between Hasikos and Michaelides concerns the approval of some 800 student visas to Bangladeshi nationals where the latter reported to the Attorney-general that the supporting documentation of the applicants was deemed to be suspect, but they were nevertheless issued a visa.
Hasikos denied any wrongdoing, suggesting the Auditor-general did not have his facts right.