Foreign students flock to ‘illegal’ Cyprus universities

Kenyans are among many African students whose dreams of a quality education in Cyprus might have been shattered.

Internal politics in Cyprus have spilled over into the international and African higher education scene, fuelling confusion among parents and prospective students attracted to opportunities for top-notch education in the divided country.

Universities in secessionist north Cyprus, a region not recognised by the international community except Turkey, have been advertising places at various ‘quality’ institutions, precipitating a spat with the country’s missions abroad.

The universities, including Cyprus International University and East Mediterranean University, both in the north Turkish-recognised region, have been luring students – mainly in Africa – with the promise of top-quality, affordable education.

But the universities are not accredited by south (Greek) Cyprus, which is recognised by the United Nations, posing a major dilemma for students, who are uncertain about whether they will be able to enter the job market with qualifications from universities in north Cyprus.

In Kenya in particular, Cyprus International University (CIU) has been aggressively advertising in the local press in a bid to attract students.

The move has forced the south Cyprus (Nicosia) embassy in Nairobi to warn students and parents against enrolling at the institution, cautioning that the university is unaccredited

“We are sending out a warning that the Cyprus International University is not accredited or recognised by the ministry of education and culture in the republic of Cyprus,” said Agis Loizou, the Cyprus high commissioner to Kenya, in a media statement.

“The CIU is in the illegal entity of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), and therefore is not a legally operating university that can issue degrees to students.”

The warning has sent shock waves across Kenya and East Africa.

Jamal Tajdin, a Kenyan studying at East Mediterranean University (EMU) in the north’s Famagusta area, said there were about 30 Kenyans at EMU.

“All I can say is TRNC is one of the safest places to be," he wrote in Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper. "The university is home to thousands of international students from around the world, especially African countries.

“There are only about 30 Kenyan students at EMU, but we are happy here and it is much cheaper and the quality of education better than at Greek Cypriot universities.”

Last year, Kenya’s Commission for University Education warned that CIU was an unaccredited university, but this seems not to have deterred education-hungry Kenyans from flocking to north Cyprus.

The Cyprus high commission in Nairobi listed the University of Cyprus, Open University of Cyprus and Cyprus University of Technology as among the accredited institutions at which international students could enrol.

Although scenic and peaceful, northern Cyprus is an area previously blighted by civil war. With the region occupied by the Turkish army and denied recognition by the United Nations, there are no direct flights there from Africa, and African students have to travel to Istanbul, from where they get connecting flights.

According to Fredrick Oloo, another Kenyan student in the disputed north, this has not hindered African students from pursuing their dream courses in north Cyprus where, he said, the education offered was both “cheap and of high quality”.