IT IS VERY difficult to comprehend the reasons why deputies decided to amend the legal framework by which the University of Cyprus operates, thus preventing it from using funds it generated on its own. These funds were not provided by the taxpayer, but came from donations, fees for post-graduate courses and research programmes the total of which was in excess of €40 million.
The university will not be able to pay research assistants – more than 500 – or continue research projects if the legislature does not unblock the funds pretty soon. Two academic seats, funded in the past by Laiki and Bank of Cyprus, would also have to be abolished, because of the amendment to the law that also froze all promotions. There is also the potentially embarrassing possibility of the university failing to transfer funds it is handling, as a co-ordinator of a research programme, to other participating universities.
Academics are convinced that the objective of the political parties is to destroy the autonomy and independence of the university and bring it under party control, a contention seen in several newspaper articles. An announcement, issued last week by the general meeting of academic staff, also spoke about a “significant blow” to autonomy, which was in violation of “university culture” and European legislation. It also warned that an even bigger issue than autonomy was at stake – the “future form and character of public university education”.
We doubt deputies are actually working on a sinister plan to subjugate the Cyprus University. It is more likely that it was populist decision aimed at showing the electorate they were tough on spending, especially after the fuss made about the monthly expense allowances received by all professors and associate professors. These allowances were given when the university was first established, as an incentive to attract good academics, but were eventually paid to all associate professors and professors.
Deputies did not to approve these allowances when passing the 2013 budget, which was within their right even though their parsimony would have been more credible if they had blocked the tax-free, expense allowances of top state officials as well. But blocking the spending of the university, from its own funds, thus jeopardising research programmes, was totally unjustified. We suspect deputies did not realise the wider implications of their decision, because they have limited understanding of how a university operates and the significance of research programmes.
The issue needs to be resolved now. Those politicians who have recognised the blunder committed by deputies should now persuade the parties to go back to the legislature and rescind their amendments, because it would be scandalous for all research programmes to be stopped on a populist whim.