SETTING limits to the number of third-country nationals that private colleges can enrol was the correct move by the education ministry. It had been advised to do so by the foreign and interior ministries which are dealing with consequences of allowing thousands of non-EU individuals to come into the country and end up seeking asylum or enter sham marriages that allows them to travel to other EU countries.
Cyprus had received complaints from three EU countries about the sham marriages taking place on the island, the House education committee was told on Wednesday. The committee also heard of the existence of a criminal ring that arranges for third-country nationals to come to Cyprus and exploit the system either to settle and work here or to gain access, through marriage, to rest of the union.
Apart from the social problems created by the presence of a large number of immigrants in a country with a small population – former interior minister Constantinos Petrides had repeatedly warned of the changing demographics of the country – there were also security concerns. Cyprus had repeatedly sought the help of its EU partners to deal with immigration but has largely been ignored. The irony is that it faces the problem because it follows the EU directives for dealing with asylum seekers.
In the case of foreign students, however, the government is perfectly within its rights to pursue its own policies to stem the flow of potential asylum seekers and try to end sham marriages. It is no secret that many private colleges have been used by third country nationals as a way of coming here to work. Many never bothered to show up to the colleges as one education ministry official noted at Wednesday’s meeting, saying that one college had 800 students enrolled and not a single one was found in classes during an inspection.
The government imposed some more controls on colleges in the past, but the problem remained, which is why the education ministry had no choice but to introduce student quotas. This will have a negative impact on the balance sheets of these colleges but the public interest dictates that they take a hit. College owners complained that the quotas would oblige them to return €3,000 received from students from India and Nepal as registration and tuition fees, but this was inevitable. There had to be a cut-off point and the education ministry could not be expected to wait until it suits the college owners to implement an important policy designed to address a pressing problem.