2015 WILL be a very busy year for the University of Cyprus (UCY) as construction will begin on the eagerly-awaited university campus. This is the type of job-creating development project that politicians have been paying lip service to, demanding that the government, by some miracle, came up with the necessary funds. The fact is there are no funds, which makes the €162 million loan secured for the project from the European Investment Bank (EIB) all the more remarkable.
The signing ceremony took place yesterday, allowing the UCY to go ahead with an ultra ambitious project worth €216 million that had been in the pipeline for years. The loan also showed that there are still some public institutions in Cyprus that have not been discredited and command the trust of foreign investors. It is a big vote of confidence in the university, which Rector Constantinos Christofides hopes will grow by 2020 to have 10,000 students, 2,000 researchers and 600 academic staff. The UCY is one of the few public institutions that is emerging from the recession stronger, having reduced its expenses and increased revenue from research programmes and contributions.
Strong leadership, good academics and capable administration staff have all contributed to this success, but there is another important factor that nobody mentions. The biggest success of the UCY leadership has been keeping the political parties and government at arm’s length, resisting their attempts to take control and start dictating decisions. Government still appoints the chairperson and some members of the University Council, but university authorities also appoint members, thus restricting the influence of politicians. On appointments and promotions of academic staff the parties have no influence at all, as these are decided by committee on which foreign evaluators also sit.
The parties have tried to have a say by passing a law that, scandalously, gives the right to student representatives that are under control of the parties to vote in university elections. The Rector at the time resigned over this party scheme to exercise some control and it remains a threat, but divisions between the big parties have so far ensured that political influence has been non-existent. This has been a blessing as the success of UCY has proved.
The destructive influence of the parties on Cyprus’ public life is well-known, but the University of Cyprus can be cited as an example of how successful a public institution could be when it can operate without interference by the politicians.