THE GOVERNMENT and the political parties have exhibited in the last few days their true commitment to an independent, public university. They may all pay lip service to the idea of an independent University of Cyprus (UCy), but their actions have never supported their words.
A few years ago, for instance, the parties led by AKEL insisted the university should have rescinded the decision to kick out students that had failed repeatedly to pass their end of year exams. More recently, the parties had argued that the university should have given all its undergraduates places to students, irrespective of the low entry exam marks and the justified fears these candidates would not cope with degree courses. This could hardly be described as respecting the independence of the university.
Now, the government and the political parties, encouraged by unions, have found another excuse to interfere in the academic affairs of the UCy. They object to its decision to enrol students that have passed GCE or IB exams and had gained admission to a university abroad but not enrolled. They insist that only students of state schools that had sat the Pancyprian exams should be admitted to the university, a point made by the education minister Costas Kadis in a letter to the rector of UCy. In his letter Kadis described the decision as unilateral action that could be in violation of the law and urged the rector to stop its implementation.
This remark alone illustrates the contempt the authorities have for the university’s independence. An independent institution, in theory, should take unilateral decisions because it does not need the authorisation of the government or education minister; if it did, it would not be independent but state-controlled. What self-respecting university, in a democratic country, could allow the education minister, parties and teaching unions to dictate its admissions policy as happens in Cyprus?
The decision to enrol students with IB and GCE qualifications was taken several years ago and was postponed after the strong reaction of the parties and teaching unions, which wanted to maintain the closed shop, keeping UCy the preserve of state school students. It was a way of penalising children that went to private schools while keeping the maximum number of places available for candidates from state schools, even if this meant a lowering of standards.
The raising of student standards by opening up the admissions policy of UCy is anathema to the populist champions of mediocrity in the parties and unions. As for the education minister, he has shown time and again that he takes no important decision about education without the consent of teaching unions, which is why he cannot tolerate the university authorities taking unilateral decisions and acting independently of the party-union establishment.
It remains to be seen whether the rector will underline UCy’s independence by refusing to give in to Kadis’ ridiculous demand.