Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist Opinion

Education for the future

By Hermes Solomon

MOTORWAY billboards between Nicosia and the Larnaca/Limassol fork used to advertise banks – home loans, holidays, second homes on Greek islands and new cars. Now those same billboards advertise further education at a dozen or so of our colleges and universities – law, accounting, speech therapy, medicine, nursing, assistant pharmacist, public health, economics & business management, gas & oil engineering, etc. No mention of courses for environmentalists, plumbers, electricians, stone masons, hostelry, husbandry, horticulture, fisheries and forestry – apprenticeships in trades which have always been employable occupations and from which Cyprus had become a force to reckon with after 1960.
Not unexpectedly, the number of new entrants into our universities has fallen drastically. Intakes are down by as much as 30 per cent for the year 2013/14.
Private schools have also seen a notable drop in pupil numbers – non-payment of outstanding fees has ballooned – teachers’ salaries have been reduced accordingly with some losing their jobs altogether.
Private schools, after recently introducing discounts, cost between three and seven thousand euros per annum depending on the pupil’s age. Our private universities on the other hand rarely offer courses at less than 8,000 euros per annum.
Unquestionably, it’s still cheaper to send our children to Cyprus universities than abroad, where housing, flights, fodder and other extras could add another ten grand to the annual bill.
Since joining the EU, third country student numbers at our colleges and universities have also fallen considerably. Not only is Cyprus no longer a cheap place to live, but fees here are now much higher than in countries like Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and the Czech republic. In France, Germany and Scotland, university education is fee free for EU citizens fluent in that country’s language, but places are not easily won.
Third country nationals are flocking to cheap or free universities, where many courses are conducted in English and migration departments happily issue student visas trouble free.
Greek universities teach uniquely in Greek, when English has become the accepted EU language – this narrowing future prospects for post grads! For example, all negotiations between the troika and the Cyprus government/administration were conducted in English and that language is now in common usage throughout Cyprus business, tourism and industry.
We are shunning foreign students with unacceptably high fees, a comparatively high cost of living and a ‘miserable’ Civil Registry and Migration Department.
Most students seek part-time work to help cover costs. Working ‘black’ was welcomed in our economy several years ago, but it is now impossible for students to make a crust.
While US fast food workers, who are paid seven dollars fifty an hour, strike for a minimum wage of 15 dollars an hour, ours work for whatever they can get – as low as three euros ‘black’ and up to five euros an hour on the books – one euro equates to 1.3 dollars.
When the going gets tough the tough don’t come here anymore.
While the Chinese and Russians buy up Greece, our universities and bankrupt property developers are now obliged to advertise vigorously in response to falling numbers.
At the Larnaca/Limassol coastal motorway link, developers advertise property in Chinese and Russian. Several have suddenly begun to advertise in Arabic – somewhat mercenary at this particular time I’d say. Will we only take in rich Syrian refugees?
And what has happened to those Hebrew and mandarin language courses offered by the University of Cyprus last year? Is there a single Cypriot student ‘reading’ either language? And how about Turkish, where many did recently and now can’t find jobs. Will Arabic language courses follow?
What is a university degree worth nowadays anyway? Most EU post-grads are unemployed.
Masters and PhDs seem to be the minimum requirements and that means between four and seven years study paid for by some taking out government loans that are repaid throughout a post-grad’s working lifetime.
The incentive to study is slowly evaporating. Fifty years ago only five per cent of kids went into further education. Now it’s closer to 85 per cent. Why bother if long term personal debt and unemployment is the outcome?
Since 1970, further education became the opium of the people, replacing religion. Education is only the key to the door, but governments have changed the lock and barred the door by creating a chicken and egg situation – experience has become a must! But how to acquire experience when job starts for post-grads are now in such short supply?
The dentistry department at Newcastle University refuses places to those who have attained the highest A-level pass marks yet display (during interviews) little character after leaving school and seeking a university place straightaway. They are seen as having come from dull, studious backgrounds and are unlikely to make outstanding or innovative dentists.
Nowadays, versatility and experience beat singularity. Quel dilemme! Better to take a couple of years out and travel the world; first gain experience in ‘life and self sufficiency’, this presumably making you a much more interesting applicant. For example, work as a receptionist in a hotel in Honduras or become a monk in a Mongolian monastery. Wash mangoes or cement mixers in Mexico. Plant rice in Rwanda or grow pot in Portugal. But get out of Cyprus, where life has become dull and uninteresting, where nouveauté is frowned upon, where politics, religion, the legal profession, banking and the civil service reject change unreservedly; where journalism thrives and the sale of newspapers falls.
Between 1955/75 a quarter of the island’s population quit Cyprus for lands and opportunities anew. Most succeeded abroad and did not return other than for holidays or in retirement.
When a country is controlled by an indestructible political mafia (cronyism), what choices are there for the disconnected other than to flee and leave the ‘mafia’ to stew in their own juice?
Our political parties have slaughtered the goose that laid the golden egg, and that egg has been ground down into a handful of worthless and windswept dust.

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