By Constantinos Christofides
THE WAY in which trade unionists reacted to the University of Cyprus’ admission of students who had been successful in international exams and secured places at foreign universities causes great sadness.
Young people, still in their teens, who had entered the university threshold, are being deprived of their rights. Their right to study in their own country, having satisfied the requirements and judged to have the ability to follow university studies successfully, is being denied. They will start their studies under the ‘threat’ of being kicked out of the university. And all this is taking place in European country, a member-state of the EU.
Unionists, some secondary school teachers – among them a deputy – displaying incredible rage have been shouting and intimidating, threatening strike and dynamic measures, because five students had been admitted on the strength of their results in international exams. It does not bother them that 324 place at the university had not been filled, nor did they dwell on the very interesting reason for this.
They seem to prefer these places remain empty rather than being given to a few students from private schools. And they cite procedures, laws and regulations in an attempt to intimidate and impose conditions of the dark ages, turning into Javerts persecuting young students. Two things worry them – afternoon lessons and comparisons.
Of the five youths that were accepted to the university some are having second thoughts about being registered because they fear they would be stigmatised. The unprecedented bullying has had results. Foreign friends have asked me whether Cyprus is really a European country. Nobody considers the millions of euro that would go abroad by keeping 324 university places empty.
How much irrationality? How much social racism? Some lyceum teachers, who should be acting like guides and models for youth, have been threateningly shaking their finger at young students. Unionists are mouthing vulgarities in the media, issuing threats and blackmailing. They speak about invalid registrations and therefore ‘illegal’ students (in Cyprus we are experts at inventing new terms).
Instead of contributing to the elimination of disputes and inequalities, they are trying to build walls between youths, separating them according to the secondary school they had attended. These walls are not different from the walls extremists build everywhere. And the worst walls, the toughest, are those that are built in the minds and hearts of our youths.
As Rector I welcome all students to the University of Cyprus on behalf of the whole of our community. I welcome them to their home, the institution for which taxes are paid by everyone’s parents. No force should have been able to stop them – no force will stop them – from studying at the top academic institution of the country. We need them. We need all the youths of our country because, as is clear, the country needs to change. The place needs substantial modernisation.
We want our university to be a meeting place for all the youths of our country, from all schools, from all communities; we want foreign students to study here as well as the children of immigrants living here. We want them to study together in the same amphitheatres, labs and libraries, because we know that the blending of differences is an impressive pedagogical process.
The different sections of the establishment are again shaking their fingers at us. They are shaking their fingers at a society that has learnt, passively, to tolerate them, feed them, cultivate them and maintain them. We are being given lessons from those who have brought state schools into disrepute. And I am talking about people who either never worked or have lived off the state and have never created something new.
These are a small group of secondary school teachers that run the unions. The overwhelming majority of experienced teachers that spend their time in the classroom educating children deserve our gratitude for what they have done for our youth.
There are some moments when societies must take decisions. And the moment for our education is now. When you live in a dynamic environment, in a society that is changing and has new needs, it must be possible for laws and regulations to be amended and adapted to the new conditions.
Will we choose rupture and reform without compromises or will we choose the black economy of afternoon lessons and undeclared incomes estimated to be in the region of €60 million a year?
The time has come for society to speak out and say what it thinks without fear, to express its accumulated anger against the few that cause so much harm. As Martin Luther King Jr said, “In the end we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Constantinos Christofides is the Rector of the University of Cyprus