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Cyprus MPs want foreign student visa overhaul

Politicians in Cyprus have called on the government to streamline entry requirements for foreign students looking to study at private higher education institutions (HEIs) in the country.

International education already contributes around €70 million to the Cypriot economy

Because the language of instruction at private institutions is English – as opposed to Greek at public universities – 66% of EU and non-EU international students study at one of the country’s 40 private institutions. This includes up to 90% of all non-EU nationals.

“Any move to help foreign students register more easily would help bring money to our shores”

“In a recent committee meeting it was established that the current bureaucratic procedure for registering foreign students in Cyprus entails serious negative consequences for both the sustainability and the development of higher education in Cyprus,” chairman of the house education committee, Nicos Tornaritis, said in a letter to the finance minister.

In 2010 the government set out plans to attract more international students to the island, which has ambitions to become a Mediterranean learning hub. Over 10,000 foreign students studied at higher education institutions in Cyprus last year; 6,298 were non-EU nationals from countries such as India, Bangladesh, China and Pakistan.

However, critics say cumbersome administration processes are obstructing growth. To obtain a visa for just one year, non-EU nationals must provide an acceptance letter from an institution in Cyprus, attend face-to-face interviews at Cypriot embassies in their home countries, prove they have sufficient funds to cover living costs during their studies, and purchase health insurance.

In addition, students must again prove these arrangements are in place when they arrive in Cyprus. There are also many government departments involved in student visa processing and coordination is said to be poor.

Tornaritis charged the finance minister to “assume a coordinating role in redesigning the whole bureaucratic process to attract quality foreign students to Cyprus”. His committee argues that an overhaul will also develop economic benefits from the sector which already contributes around €70 million to the economy.

Tornaritis also urged private institutions to lower their tuition fees

The Association of Private Schools of Tertiary Education (PASISTE) supports the committee’s efforts. “We are expecting the government to take measures to kick-start the economy and believe any move to help foreign students register more easily would help bring money to our shores,” said vice-head Marios Americanos

Tornaritis also urged private institutions to lower their tuition fees which can reach up to €9,600 a year. PASISTE however argued that scholarships may be enough to alleviate cost pressures.

“Essentially giving out scholarships is the same as reducing the fees but we concentrate the scholarships on those people who require assistance more,” said Americanos.

Earlier this year, English language schools in Cyprus expressed similar concerns over red tape around foreign student visa processing which they believe is hampering the country’s efforts to become an education hub.

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