THE MINISTRY of education and the public universities will introduce entrance exams for private school students from this year it has been announced. It is a positive move that ends the exclusion by law of private school youths from the University of Cyprus (UCy) and TEPAK (technology and applied sciences university) which charge no tuition fees.
This was a blatant case of lawful discrimination that will be corrected by the broadened admission system, which still has to be approved by the legislature. The decision of UCy to admit five students from private schools last September, on the strength of their results in international exams, provoked a storm of protest, primarily from the teachers’ union OELMEK and some parties which claimed there had been a violation of the law governing the operation of public universities. The opinion, requested from the attorney-general, supported this view.
Under the new proposal, private school students would have to sit an entrance exam that would be set by the universities, under the supervision of the ministry, in Greek or English. They would also have to sit the Greek language exam that would be the same paper as the one state school students would sit. To keep a level playing field, state school students would be able to sit the same entrance exam, rather than the Pancyprian exams that they had to sit in order to gain a place at a public university.
There is one weakness in the system which was introduced in order to ensure the support of the political parties and answer the argument the teaching unions have been citing – that there would be fewer places for state school students. University places would be increased by 10 per cent so that the same number of places would be on offer to state school students. This was a political decision that does not exactly promote the idea of academic excellence through tougher competition for places.
UCy had in the past said that it had many places that it had not filled because it believed candidates with marks below a certain level would have struggled. It had also resisted pressure from political parties to fill all available places regardless of the ability of the candidates it would have to take (this is the union approach which also wants poor ability rewarded). Under the circumstances, there was no need to increase the number of places in order to maintain the intake quota for state school students. Maintaining the same number of places would have made the two universities more competitive and improved standards. It would have also put pressure to raise the standards at state schools.
This, however, could be addressed at a later stage. What matters now is that the discrimination against private school graduates has been ended.