Academic citadel at cultural crossroads

The national universities of Iceland and of Cyprus are both emblematic of countries with a rich heritage and an active engagement with the wider world, says Alan Osborn

There is room for only three out of every ten young people who apply to study at the University of Cyprus. In recognition of Cypriots' thirst for knowledge, the institution plans to double its student intake to 10,000 by 2015.

The island state's national university, based in the capital of Nicosia, was founded in 1989 and welcomed its first students in 1992.

Stavros Zenios, rector of the University of Cyprus, said: "We attach great importance to our international profile, particularly in Europe. The university plays an important role in helping Cyprus adapt to a new environment and in being a strong partner in the European Union. We are active members of the European University Association, but we also have associations with universities in the Middle East through the association of universities in the Mediterranean region, covering north Africa and southern Europe. We are also members of the Association of Commonwealth Universities."

Although Cyprus is an enthusiastic new member of the EU, following its accession in 2004, it also has strong and long-standing ties with the Arab world.

Professor Zenios said the university is in introducing a programme in Middle Eastern studies. "We perceive that as a university we have a special role to play in building bridges between the European tradition and the Arab world."

This cultural duality is reflected in the university's faculty and student intake. The two languages of instruction are Greek and Turkish, and students are predominantly Greek Cypriots, with a small number of Turkish Cypriots.

About a tenth of students come from other countries, mainly Greece, but also Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria and Spain. Professor Zenios said: "Our faculty is predominantly composed of Cypriots who have worked overseas before coming back. We also have faculty from Greece, Germany, France, England and the US.

"In the School of Humanities, we have a strong Turkish studies department that looks at language, culture, the economics and the politics of Turkish society. Then we have the School of Letters, including Byzantine studies, modern Greek studies and archaeology: these departments focus on the Hellenic heritage of the island," he said.

While these subjects are determined by Cyprus's location, it may be that the university's greatest strengths lie in its schools of economics, science and engineering and in the importance it attaches to research.

"This is a research university," Professor Zenios said. "In 2001, we qualified as an intensive research university under the Carnegie classification.

"We have been successful in attracting research funds from the EU's Framework Programmes. When we started, for every (Cypriot) pound provided by the Government, we got about one pound from other sources. Today the ratio is one to five.

"We are above the EU average ranked by the productivity and impact of research, and we would like to be an active part of European higher education in the research area," he said.


  • Population: 793,100
  • Students enrolled at University of Cyprus: 5,000
  • Percentage of students from Cyprus: 90
  • Percentage of Cyprus's population attending university: 8.8

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