Oasis of higher education

Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) is home to 16 universities with a student population of 100 000 from around the world.

In this country, which is only recognised by Turkey, higher education constitutes 40 percent of the economy and as such, the island State has earned the moniker “oasis of higher education.”

Despite its political status, the TRNC has become a preferred destination for many Zimbabweans seeking higher education with a total of 1 850 enrolled in various universities on the island.

These include Cyprus International University, Eastern Mediterranean University (1979), Kyrenia American University (1985), Near East University (1988), European University of Lefke (1990), Cyprus International University (1996), Middle East Technical University North Cyprus Campus (2004) and Instabul Technical University North Cyprus Campus (2009), just to name a few.

The Herald recently visited some of the universities with the highest numbers of Zimbabwean students following reports that some of the students were facing a number of challenges in the foreign land.

At Cyprus International University (CIU) in Lefkosa, 800 Zimbabweans are currently undertaking studies.

Another 212 Zimbabweans are at the Eastern Mediterranean University in Famagutsa area.

But staying in a foreign country has also come with its own challenges for some Zimbabwean students studying here.

Most students are failing to pay tuition fees on time as their parents and guardians do not have access to foreign currency.

Under the current RBZ exchange control operating guidelines and compliance framework to authorised dealers, students studying abroad are regarded a low priority since they compete with other sectors of the economy and industry.

Unfortunately, students can only get study permits once their tuition is paid up. The permit also allows them to work part time and fend for themselves while in TRNC.

To add salt to the injury, some parents stop paying fees for their children when they enrol at foreign universities and expect to receive handouts from them.

The TRNC universities and government say they are doing all they can to improve the lives of students from developing countries.

Speaking to The Herald, CIU Rector Professor Halil Nadiri said their institution hosts students from 120 different countries. He said some of the 800 Zimbabweans studying at CIU are active while others are passive due to the economic challenges in Zimbabwe.

Prof Nadiri revealed that after learning of the challenges the students were facing, they resolved that those with outstanding fees could freeze their semesters.

CIU, he said, also increased the payment period for those owing.

“They do not need to pay money at once. They can now choose six to eight instalments. They also have a chance to work as an assistant and do not have to pay any fee. We also pay them a scholarship as pocket money if they are undergraduate student assistants. This is all related to academic success,” he explained.

Prof Nadiri added that while they have the best interests of students at heart, they are also running an institution and as such, have to collect tuition.

“We have to differentiate between real students and those that are not. Universities are recruiting students by considering their academic qualifications.

“We are not in a position to investigate their legal issues. We hope embassies located in regions in Ankara and Turkey can ensure government receives clear and objective information on what is going on instead of other channels.

“There are many embassies working very closely with us and are visiting universities to deal with passports and other such things. They also attend our graduation ceremonies.

“If we are talking about 1850 Zimbabwean students, it means Zimbabwe and North Cyprus should work together more,” he said.

Prof Nadiri revealed that to make life bearable for students, CIU has also been providing various scholarships.

“Due to our internationalisation policy, all international students receive 50 percent scholarships. This is one of the visions of the university, to receive more international students,” he said.

He said CIU also receives recognition from the national authorities from various countries whose students study there.

Prof Nadiri added that while some students have been tricked by some unscrupulous agents and agencies, recruitment for CIU is done by authorised agents who undergo thorough screening.

“They are first screened by our international office to see if they are capable of representing the university. If capable, we give them permission to represent us. We also have an office in Zimbabwe which is responsible, not to act as an agency, but as liaison throughout the region to organise our activities, get in contact with government officials, contact our agencies and update people on misinformation,” he added.

He also said their degrees are recognised and that CIU is in contact with the Zimbabwe Council of Higher Education (Zimche), who does not have problems with their quality of education.

According to Prof Nadiri, TRNC has by-laws that allow university students to work while studying.

“If students are coming but do not continue with education, they do not get student certificates. If they do not have a student certificate, they cannot complete immigration papers. With no immigration papers, students cannot continue working here,” he added.

He said the quality of education and secure environment has resulted in many foreign students opting for their university.

“CIU is a fully fledged university which is recognized by the Northern Cyprus Higher Education and the Turkish Higher Education council and also international independent scientific bodies.

“CIU is a fully fledged member of the international universities association which is developed and run by Unesco.  Since TNRC is not a recognised state, they are recognised under Turkey. We are keen on accreditation,” he said.

He added that starting this year, they are also providing student engagement transcripts, which is related with intellectual development of students throughout their academic year as team members and socially.

In the east of Lefkosa, one finds Famagutsa, which is home to the Eastern Mediterranean University where 212 Zimbabweans learn.

The Universities’ Vice Rector, Prof Cem Tanova, told The Herald that the agencies that were misinforming students do not represent the university.

Prof Tanova

He said they had devised ways to cushion students who are facing financial challenges as a result of foreign currency challenges back home.

“Last year and the year before was a difficult time for Zimbabwean students. We allowed them to make provisional registration. If they are in good standing in terms of academics and did not have a huge debt, we allowed them to register for their courses. We do not charge them a penalty for as long as they are attending classes. The students should explain their situation so that we give them the provisional registration status.

“I want to emphasise that not every university is the same. We cannot group all universities in the same category. We are a government institution, there is no profit motive. We were established to cater for the needs of the local youth and we grew into a much larger university. If you do not reach a certain size, you cannot compete globally,” he said.

“We had an exam and gave 100 percent scholarships to students who scored in the top five. Those who were sixth to 10th got 75 percent scholarships,” he added.

He said they have an international office which caters for the needs of all foreign students.

“Some students face various challenges. Some may receive a contract that is written in Turkish from their landlords. Our staff in the international office can translate that for them. They may have disputes and we help them so that they know their rights. Some may want to know about their legal status. We have staff in our international office that caters for all that,” he explained.

He also said they have an orientation programme where students are picked up from the airport to the university for free.

In an interview with The Herald, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus Minister of National Education and Culture, Mr Cemal Gursel Ozyigit, said they were happy to have international students, Zimbabweans included, in their country.

He said it is important for their Turkish students to interact with foreign students as this would help bring about sustainable peace.

“Our country is not recognised but we also know the UN and EU acknowledge our existence.

“These institutions are in contact with our president and also the government officials indirectly. I am following many joint projects with the EU. The objective is to prepare the Turkish Cypriots to EU standards in case there is a settlement in the future. Within this framework, we realised the importance of accrediting our institutions,” he said.

He said many universities in TRNC are accredited by international accreditation authorities.

These include the Turkish Republic Higher Education Board (YÖK); Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus Board of Higher Education Planning Accreditation and Coordination Board (YÖDAK); Science, Literature, Faculty of Science and Letters; Faculty of Languages, History and Geography Curriculum Programmes Assessment and Accreditation Association (FEDEK).

They are also accredited by the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR); International Universities Council International Universities Search & Rescue Council European Council for Business Education (ECBE); International Association of Universities(IAU) and the Foundation for International Business Administration Accreditation (FIBAA), just to name a few.

At the time of the interview, a delegation from FIBAA was due to visit CIU to audit their programmes related to international relations, accounting, hotel and management.

Mr Ozyigit said since coming into government, the total number of students in TRNC has risen to 100 000. A total of 50 000 students are from Turkey while approximately 35 000 come from Africa, Middle East and other countries.

“1850 of the 35 000 students are from Zimbabwe. Approximately 10 000 are Turkish Cypriots,” he said.

Mr Ozyigit said their diplomas are generally recognised globally, except in a few countries.

Mr Ozyigit

“Together with the ministry of foreign affairs, we are corresponding with countries that do not recognise our diplomas so that they recognise them.

“First we try to get the university accreditation. As the leader of social democratic party in North Cyprus, certain NGOS and trade unions are members to national organisations even if we are not recognised.

“Until we achieve a settlement, we are trying to ensure our universities or certain faculties within the universities get recognised worldwide,” he added.

Mr Ozyigit said more emphasis is placed on students that come from third world countries.

“When students come, we place emphasis on their standards of living and socio economic status,” he added.

He said they do not support agencies that misinform students.

“Some of these agencies are misinforming students with incorrect information. They tell them that they can find job opportunities in Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. They are also misinforming students that the northern part is a part of the European Union, just to get commission, hence students are coming here,” he said.

“Three months ago, as a government we passed the foreign students’ regulation for students from third world countries,.

“Under the regulation, we have investigated the education systems where these students come from. We look at the criteria needed to enrol them in our universities so that we have standard criteria. In the 2018-19 academic year, foreign students who come to study here will have to come based on new criteria.

“For example if one graduates in high school, that should be equivalent to what is studied here.”

He added that from September 2018, the students would enrol according to the new criteria.

“Local ministries will be monitoring the students to ensure that they pay fees and attend classes. In the past, some students would enrol but ended up working in unregistered jobs and not attending classes. Sometimes, they would be taken advantage of and exploited.

“We are against this exploitation and to avoid this, we will monitor the students more once they arrive.

“When the students enrol and want to work during holidays and outside school hours, we have no problems with that. They must register for work permits. It must all be done in a legal and correct manner.”

He added that some students from third world countries are provided with scholarships.

“If the students are encountering problems, the Ministry of Education is more than willing to assist and find ways to help them if they write to us.

“If students apply to us directly, we can talk to the universities to see how they can help.

“This applies to students that are attending classes. We will also identify students that have enrolled but are not attending classes. We will then inform the Zimbabwean Government on those that have enrolled but are not attending class so that they know who to allocate foreign currency to first,” he said.

Under-secretary of the Deputy Prime Ministry and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mustafa Laka Damyali expressed dismay at the difficulties that some students have had to go through while in TRNC.

“After having read your earlier stories with utmost attention, I would like to stress that I hold The Herald in high regard and I am considering this story as a means to raise awareness among my own Ministry, other relevant institutions as well as our universities, regarding some of the issues that we are equipped to deal with.

“In this regard, we highly appreciate being informed of these incidents so that we may take precautions for the future,” he said.

“It appears that the students who spoke to The Herald were given false hopes, led to unrealistic expectations and were certainly not treated as people in search of education to elevate themselves.

“The agents who function as middle-men between prospective students and the universities are creating these problems.

“While we deplore these actions, we also stress that we cannot take responsibility for the actions of these agents as they are not affiliated with our universities,” added Mr Damyali.

He said several university officials have all expressed concern over some of the agents who are ready to promise anything to entice young people.

“After careful evaluation, it has become clear that some of them (agents) simply do not have the best interests of the students close to their hearts.

“Given the geographical distance, language barriers and the diversity of African and Asian countries from whom tens and thousands of students arrive in Northern Cyprus for higher education, university officials have shared with me their own difficulties to vet and identify virtually countless number of agents who are head-hunting for prospective students,” he said.

He added that they have taken note of these issues and are committed to working with universities to address them.

“It should be underlined that we will always have the students’ interests at heart. While l have no intention of undermining the gravity of the incidents mentioned in your reporting, I would like to point out that a very small number of students seem to be experiencing such hardships and the majority of foreign students are not only enjoying their stay in Northern Cyprus but are receiving high quality education and graduate as refined adults.

“It remains, of course, as our mission to extend the best services to all prospective students, and we will work hard towards this end,” he explained.

“Prospective students should contact the universities directly and most importantly obtain their admissions directly from the university.

“All universities in Northern Cyprus have well-maintained and up-to-date websites operating in English. These websites should be the first point of reference for any prospective student, not promises from agents,” he said.

He urged prospective students to engage with alumni and current students to seek obtain information.

“On our part, we are always seeking ways to identify the agents who are exploiting the young people’s dreams. We are coordinating our efforts with universities to see what can be done.

“I would like to assure Zimbabweans or nationals of any country that Northern Cyprus universities provide high quality education and tens of thousands students literally from all around world are receiving the best education they could expect. Northern Cyprus, with its universities as well as its modern infrastructure and peaceful life, is one of the best places that young people can seek higher education in,” he said.

He added that they would follow up on the issues affecting students more closely in order to minimize, if not eradicate, their recurrence

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