Fatima Salehin is a Moroccan student who just got a scholarship to study at the Cyprus International University (CIU). She dreams of becoming a politician when she returns home. Hundreds of young Arabs like Fatima are dreaming to bring what they learned abroad back home. They go to universities in the west hoping for a chance at a better education away from the traditional one back home. Most of them come from conflict zones, and the countries of the Arab spring are the ones with the most youth immigration for studies abroad. The universities in Northern Cyprus are the new destination for many of them.
Fatima who is a student in international relations explains that it was her father who encouraged her to study abroad: “he left me the choice. I applied for the Sorbonne in France, but did not get in because I was too late, so destiny had it that I came here to study international politics.”
This Moroccan girl is now an icon for the Arabs in her university after she led a student movement to demand more support for Arab students. The university then charged her with supervising the student housing services and discussing the problems of students as well as representing them in front of the administration.
CIU is considered one of the most advanced universities on the island. Dr. Houssam Rajoub, professor of trade and business management, says that “we have students from 89 countries, almost half of them have scholarships to cover their tuition completely or partially.”
He adds, “in 2006, the university opened its doors with 3545 students, and now 10 years later, the number exceeds 12 000 with a 23% increase every year. In 2007 we had 20 majors, and now it is 53.”
Universities in Northern Cyprus
There are more than 100 000 students in Northern Cyprus, spread over 14 universities. Six universities take the lead: Girne American, Near East University, Middle East Technical University, European University of Lefke, and Cyprus International University.
Universities in Northern Cyprus are modern with English as the language of teaching. Furthermore, tuition fees are not high, and in tune with the level and quality of services offered to students.
Why are Arab students heading to universities in Northern Cyprus?
Mohammed Al Sawi, an Egyptian connected to several of these universities and living in Northern Cyprus explains that “most of these universities were established after 1974, and are recognized by the higher educational council in Turkey. The Eastern Mediterranean and the Near East Universities have a full membership as institutions in the European universities union. The Eastern Mediterranean university is a full member of the consortium of Mediterranean universities, and the union of universities of the islamic world, and the international university union, as well as having the recognition of the American ABET association for accreditation for their engineering programs.”
So why are arab students coming here?
Youssef Gaber, an Egyptian student studying at the engineering department of the Near East University says that “studies here are in English and to an international standard, which allows me to learn about many different cultures and peoples through the diversity of students.”
Language of study
In both parts of the Island, studies are in english, which requires knowledge of the language for any student wishing to enter. This is tested with SAT II, IELTS, or TOEFL exams which are done before the start of the term. Most universities require an average of 70% to join, and they accept various high school degrees such as IG, SAT II, and Baccalaureate.
Ibrahim Amer, is a Jordanian student who gathered Arab students by founding the union of Arab students in Northern Cyprus, and created a Facebook group for them to meet and help one another. Ibrahim hopes that the next years will bring more Arab students, even though he does not hide his worry about problems that could happen if they come in large numbers, but still hopes that they will enjoy the experience.
The cost of living
Mohammed Al Sheikh is a student in Agriculture and he talks about the conditions of living and housing: “taste and lifestyles are different so there are a lot of options whether to live on campus or off campus. You can apply for on campus housing which would cost around 300 dollars monthly, including three meals at the university restaurant, as is the case at the CIU, and the housing cost would vary depending on the choice, the services offered, or the number of flatmates. Living on campus allows one to meet other peoples and cultures.”
He adds that “living off campus is usually suitable for older students who have been here more than a year, who would share housing with others, and know the lifestyle and the area. So they don’t need the supervision and the help of the university. With this choice, these students have more privacy and independence.”
Health Insurance and student life
Most universities offer limited health insurance with medical services for students through the medical institutions available on campus. Universities also have contracts with insurance companies to get special rates for students who want full coverage.
Many festivals and performances are held yearly in all the universities. Student clubs are spread around campus. Sport competitions, artistic and intellectual activities are also there, with local and international groups performing to enrich the student life and fill the free time and holidays.
Free buses are available all around Northern Cyprus, and this is not only for students, but for all the people living in Nicosia and around it after 12pm. When buses are not available, one can take a taxi and agree with the driver on a price which usually ranges between 20 and 30 Turkish Lira (A dollar is around 3 Liras).