Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou was on the defensive on Thursday as parents of 522 soldiers attacked the government, a day after it was announced that they would have to make their own arrangements with individual UK universities to try and get reduced fees for the 2021 academic year.
The British government recently announced the fee hike for EU countries including Cyprus from 2021.
The Cyprus government said it would try to negotiate a special deal for the 522 new conscripts in the national guard, who cannot take advantage of the 2020 fees because they are forced to serve in the army for 14 months. On Wednesday it became clear that bid had failed.
Up to now, the ceiling on fees for students from EU member states was £9,250 a year, regardless of the course of study. Instead these young men can look forward to paying the same fees as international students which – while fees can vary widely depending on the university and the course – can add up to a staggering 58,000 pounds a year for a medical degree from a top UK university.
The platform Conscripted Students 20/21 Equality-Justice which represents the affected students on Thursday called on President Nicos Anastasiades “to intervene immediately and provide a solution as promised in his public statements, to a problem that puts the future of hundreds of 2020 army conscripts at risk and which could have been prevented and avoided with timely interventions which were not made”.
The group said the ministries of foreign affairs and educations should not be able to shirk their responsibility for the problem of the increased fees at the British universities.
“The government is essentially washing its hands of the affair and tells the conscripts to directly negotiate with universities, which is impossible and unacceptable.”
The government’s attempt to create the image that this is a coordinated and successful outcome is extremely misleading, the statement by the group added.
The education and foreign ministries in their announcement on Wednesday argued the students may be able to choose cheaper UK universities other than their first choice institutions. Some can charge approximately the same for international students as for UK students.
The announcement pointed out that many scholarships are also available which Cypriot students would be eligible to apply for, but this has failed to convince the parents.
“These boys studied hard and invested in their studies and our own government needs to appreciate that. How many universities has our government contacted?” a member of the organised parents group commented.
“They said they should contact them via Ucas, do they even know how this works? They sent no clear instructions to 500 young boys, should they contact the administration of the universities and what response are they likely to get? The government has to realise it is their responsibility to their citizens.”
“It destroys their future, they may have been able to study in Oxford or Cambridge but now they won’t be able to afford to,” was another comment.
“Hull university has already announced that they would accept the students at this year’s fees. Maybe others will follow,” Prodromou retorted, defending the decision.
“Students might consider a change to universities which have done this as they are interested in attracting students.”
He explained that the British government was not negative to the government’s request for a special deal for the young men, but said they could not make an exception for Cyprus as this would discriminate against other EU countries.
The organised parents insist one solution the government could have offered easily is not to force the conscripts to serve in the army this year, but instead they should have been allowed to study before their stint in the army under these special circumstances.
This happens in other countries, where youngsters are allowed to study first and then do their army service afterwards, they argue.
“The idea that the conscripts would not serve this year was excluded from the beginning,” Prodromou commented.
“For other countries this may be possible, but we don’t have this luxury because Cyprus is a small country for which the participation of 500 conscripts is not a small matter.”
The inequality of male versus female students is another issue raised by parents.
“Boys give 14 months of their life to the army, and it is not the same for girls,” a mother of one of the conscripts said. “This has legal and political consequences.”
“It is a blatant violation of the constitutional principle of equality,” the statement by Conscripted Students 20/21 Equality-Justice echoed.