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Kenyan students caught up in Cyprus crossfire

14 November 2013, 15:44 Bedah Mengo

Nairobi - A standoff in Cyprus has derailed dreams of many Kenyan students pursuing and seeking to undertake higher education in the country.

The political squabble between breakaway state Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and Cyprus has left education of the tens of Kenyans students in limbo, with many in dilemma whether to continue studying for their degrees in the former or quit after having paid thousands of U.S. dollars.

TRNC with the help of Turkey seceded from Cyprus, which is mainly occupied by Greeks. The northern Cyprus state is recognised mainly by Turkey and its allies, but not South Cyprus.

TRNC operates independently and thus, its universities have been aggressively marketing themselves in Kenya to recruit students. Notable ones include Cyprus International University (CIU) and East Mediterranean University (EMU).

The universities are accredited by TRNC and Turkey education authorities. However, Cyprus does not recognise the universities, and thus through its embassy in Nairobi warned Kenyans that the institutions are 'illegal'.

"Under the law, the Turkish Cypriot universities operating in the area of Cyprus are unlawful educational institutions," warned (Greek) Cypriot High Commissioner Agis Loizou early this year.

The caution made Kenya's higher education authorities to warn citizens against seeking education in TRNC.

However, tens of Kenyan students were already undertaking undergraduate and graduate courses in northern Cyprus universities, particularly CIU and EMU.

The students are now caught between an anvil and a hammer. They do not know whether to continue pursuing their education in TRNC, and thereafter obtain certificates that will not be recognised back home, or quit after paying thousands of dollars in fees.

"It is a tough choice to make because I am about to complete my course," said Samson Ikohe, a Masters student at Cyprus International University in a recent interview.

Ikohe is studying Engineering Management, a course that he could not get in Kenya. He paid about 4,705 U.S. dollars for the 18 months course.

"It worries me that I am busy studying here yet my papers will be rejected by authorities at home. But I cannot quit because I know I am getting top quality education and the university am in is not bogus. Besides that, I have paid all the fees," he said.

Ikohe, as many other Kenyans at the university, understands the political wrangles between north Cyprus and South Cyprus, and that is what is keeping him going.

"I know the standoff between the two states has killed some of my friends' dreams, but in life, sometimes you have to make the tough choices to succeed," he said, adding that he choose to continue with his studies at CIU after learning that the university is recognised by Unesco.

Amina Swaleh is another Kenyans studying in TRNC. The first year student said the revelation that the universities in TRNC are bogus shocked her.

"I was surprised and felt like going back home. However, I talked to my father and he is the one who encouraged me to stay on. He understands the long-standing disagreement between Cyprus and TRNC," said Swaleh, who is studying business management.

Swaleh said she could not get admission in public universities in Kenya because of high cut off points. Nahim Hersi, who is undertaking a Masters in Business Administration degree, noted that information that universities in northern Cyprus are illegal send shockwaves among Kenyan students.

"I know of two students who quit because of that. Kenyans have experiences about bogus colleges back home so they did not what to go through such a predicament. But I stayed because I want to transit to UK to do my Phd. I know CIU has linkages with British universities," she said.

Professor Mehmet Ali Yukselen, CIU Rector, noted that it is wrong for TRNC differences with Cyprus to spill to Kenya's higher education scene, killing the dreams of many students seeking affordable education.

"When the news came out, we had difficulties convincing Kenyan students who are studying here that we are not a bogus university. But we talked to them and they understood. There are about 50 Kenyans students here," he said.

As an independent state, Yukselen noted that TRNC does not need to register their universities with South Cyprus authorities.

"Universities in North Cyprus seek accreditation from the National Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and the Higher Education, Planning, Accreditation and Coordination Council. Turkey also recognises all our universities and other colleges, " said the Rector, who added that they only have the challenge in Kenya.

Yukselen said he feels the pain of Kenyan students, but he is in touch with authorities to resolve the issue. "I am in communication with Commission of University Education in Kenya, through our Ministry of Education. We will be able to eliminate the challenges. It is illegal to punish students who are genuinely seeking higher education in a foreign nation," said Yukselen, who was in Kenya recently to try and resolve the issue.

The standoff has made universities in TRNC find it difficult to recruit student in Kenya.

"We used to carry out recruitment in March and September, but this year, we could not because of the challenges we are facing. Kenya was becoming one of our top sources of students and we had lined up scholarships to give to a number of them, but now we cannot do that now," Yukselen said.

- Xinhua


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