Future brightens for north Cypriots

May 7, 2004

Higher education in the Turkish-controlled area of Cyprus continues to languish under an international embargo after Greek Cypriots rejected the United Nations' latest reunification plan.

The northern territory, invaded by Turkey after a Greek-inspired coup, is a pariah state recognised only by Turkey. This makes life hard for the territory's five universities and 28,000 students.

Mehmet Tahiroglu, economic dean of the Near East University, told The Times Higher : "When we try to work with other European universities, we meet this wall - our engineering department recently discussed a joint project with other European universities but it collapsed at the last minute because of the embargo."

But there are signs that more than two decades of isolation may be ending.

There is growing international sympathy for Turkish Cypriots - who welcome the UN reunification plan - and the European Union has agreed a €260 million (£175 million) aid package.

The Near East University has rapidly grown since its foundation in 1986 to become the island's largest university with 18,000 students, a fifth of whom come from overseas, especially the Middle East and Asia. The institution is seeking to enter the European credit transfer system.

The Greek Cypriot government, however, is anxious not to legitimise the Turkish sector and fears that international recognition of its universities could open the door to wider acceptance.

Kypros Chrysostomides, a government spokesman, told The Times Higher : "EU laws and EU provisions cannot apply to the Turkish Cypriot side of the island as it is under occupation by Turkish soldiers."

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