The anger of parents of National Guard conscripts who would have to pay the higher tuition fees at UK universities because army service will prevent them starting their studies this year is understandable. From September 2021, when their sons will be able to attend, fees would more than double because of Brexit which means all foreign students will pay international fees.
They see this as discrimination against their sons, whose female classmates would be able to start university this year and pay the lower fees, for EU students, for the duration of their studies. In a way it is discrimination, but it is not fault of the UK government or universities which cannot make exemptions for Cypriot males as a matter of policy.
Part of the problem was that foreign minister Nicos Christodoulides had given false hope to the parents, by telling them the matter would be taken up with the British government, initially claiming he would try to secure home fees for Cypriot students, on the grounds that Cyprus was part of the Commonwealth. It was nothing more than wishful thinking as was the subsequent claim the UK government would consider the lower fees for males completing their army service in 2021.
On Wednesday it was announced there would be no exceptions for Cypriot students as this would be discrimination against other EU students, but each one could try to negotiate a lower fee with the university he wants to attend. Parents were furious and their pressure group demanded the intervention of President Anastasiades, as if he had the power to change the policy of the British government.
Although it is difficult not to feel sympathy for the parents of the unfortunate 2020 conscripts, as they would be burdened with much higher tuition fees, there is another solution. Their sons can do their university studies in EU member-states or even Cyprus which has six universities. It may sound harsh, but it is irrational to expect UK universities to make exceptions for 500 Cypriot students because they have to do army service.
It is with the Cyprus government the parents should take up the issue. The seemingly sensible suggestion that these students could be exempted from doing their army service until after they completed their studies at UK universities has been ruled out by the education minister because of the needs of the National Guard. Male, school graduates of 2020 have been dealt a very bad hand, but perhaps their parents have to accept it and start looking at universities in other countries which are just as good as the UK’s.