Cyprus Mail
Cyprus

Progress in university budget dispute

Yiannakis Omirou (centre left) with Constantinos Christophides (c)

By Poly Pantelides

CYPRUS’ state-funded universities should be given the go-ahead today to use some of the funding which parliament blocked earlier this month, House President Yiannakis Omirou has said.

Omirou met yesterday with the rectors of the three state-funded universities who have been furiously arguing against a decision by legislators to block access to self-generated funds including EU research grants, pending further explanation of how the money is used.

Omirou said the rectors had assured him that all three bodies – the University of Cyprus, the Open University, and the University of Technology – were “firmly committed to transparency and social accountability.”

The statement comes after a two-week dance between academics and politicians, with academics asking for the freedom to do their research and utilise the funds they competitively obtain and with politicians saying that all they want is to be good watchdogs for the people.

The decision to block or cross off the funds was part of a frenzy of activity in plenum in mid-July when dozens of last-minute changes were introduced to the universities’ budgets bewildering many of the lawmakers present.

Omirou said that a House education committee meeting today aiming to free up some of the blocked funds would enable universities to carry on their work. The House Education committee has pencilled in a meeting for the University of Cyprus and the University of Technology.

“There is a series of other matters, to which I’m sure the House of Representatives will show an understanding,” Omirou said adding that he did not doubt universities’ willingness to contribute what they can to the country’s ailing economy.

Omirou added the state-funded universities and parliament would keep communication lines open.

Some of the budget changes relate to cuts in allowances and benefits, freezing promotions and blocking budgets allocated for consultants and overseas visitors.

But academics took issue with having to explain to MPs what they do with their own funds, accusing politicians – particularly of ruling party DISY and coalition party DIKO – of trying to take away their institutions’ autonomy.

The University of Cyprus’ rector Constantinos Christofides said at a news conference yesterday, they would be filing a plan on university management following a series of discussions with lawmakers due to launch in September. The proposal – which the university hopes it can be incorporated in a law amendment on the university’s function – will lay out principles of autonomy. During the conference, Christofides protested the changes in his university’s budget and called parliament’s education committee to reconsider.

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