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Move any mountain

İpek Özerim

İpek Özerim

Move any mountain

  • 11.10.2017

TWO pieces of news concerning the TRNC put a big smile on my face this week. The first, that the Eastern Mediterranean University (EMU) has again made the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings. 
There were those who wrote off last year’s entry as a fluke. That EMU is on this prestigious performance league table for the second year running confirms it is among the top 5 per cent of universities in the world. How’s that for recognition?!
Established in Gazimağusa in 1979, EMU is the TRNC’s oldest and only state-run university. It has more than 20,000 students from 106 different countries, and 1,100 academic staff running 100 undergraduate and 81 post-grad courses, from media studies to medicine. 
EMU debuted on the World University Rankings in the 601-800 band, where it remains for this year. It is also ranked 173rd among universities from emerging economies, which include those in Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). It is the only TRNC university to feature, and one of three from Cyprus as a whole. Over in Turkey, 22 of its higher education institutions made the grade – five more than last year. The highest placed is again Koç University, in the 301-350 band.
THE judges use a carefully calibrated set of measures to determine the best universities in the world, and with over 25,000 to evaluate it is pretty tough to whittle them down to a list of just 1,100 institutions. The judges base their decisions on quality of research and teaching, the number of academic papers a university publishes, as well as its knowledge transfer, international academic staff, international student numbers, international outlook and campus social activities.
So it is no mean feat to appear on this international league table, which this year was topped by two British institutions – the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge – and also includes the likes of Stanford, Harvard and Princeton. For a university based in an embargoed country, it is an even bigger accolade. 
EMU has had no shortage of obstacles to overcome to function at all. Domestically, as a state-run institution, the university has struggled from the same political malaise as the rest of TRNC, used as a political football by different factions, who prefer cronyism to merit-based appointments at the university. Thankfully under Rector Prof Necdet Osam’s guidance, that’s all behind them, enabling the university to focus on what really matters: delivering a first-class higher education and academic environment, and to lobby!
Yes, like everything else in the North, even our education is embargoed. Contrary to the 1960 Cyprus Constitution, which allowed for the separate schooling of Cyprus’s Greek and Turkish communities, our neighbours in the South expend huge efforts blocking Turkish Cypriot universities from participating in key international education forums, such as the EU’s Bologna Process, which sought to harmonise the standard of degrees issued by universities across Europe. 
Nearly two decades on and after considerable effort, EMU has found ways around many of these outrageous obstructions, achieving accreditation from major global and European education bodies. These superb achievements, topped by featuring on the World University Rankings, are a gratifying two fat fingers up at all those who think it’s OK to toy with people’s lives and futures in such a callous way.
We now need to see the TRNC’s privately run universities emulate EMU’s success on the global academic stage. Every entrepreneur wants to own one, but it takes more to run a successful university than simply putting up a few faculty buildings and attracting large numbers of students from Turkey and developing nations. 
My second big cheer of the week goes to Conifa. Short for the Confederation of Independent Football Associations, this voluntary-led body representing 46 nations announced on Sunday that its next World Cup tournament was going to be held in London in June 2018 and that North Cyprus was among the 16 teams to have qualified for the finals.
Hooray! Football is “coming home”, back to its country of origin, and for the TRNC’s national side, it will be “home from home”, given there are nearly as many Turkish Cypriots in Britain as there are in North Cyprus.
Granted the “alternative” World Cup is not going to have the same glamorous feel or classy football as Fifa’s version. Indeed, with the exception of Tibet, we’re unlikely to have heard of most of the teams involved; I’m sure 99 per cent of us would have to Google to find out where reigning Conifa world champions Abkhazia are from. Yet this international tournament is a lifeline to players who, through a twist of fate, are born into communities and territories excluded by the wider world. 
Conifa is explicitly politically neutral. It was created to represent partially recognised states, regions, minority groups and sports-isolated territories currently excluded by Fifa, North Cyprus among them. Of course, being in Conifa is no substitute for being part of Fifa and its tournaments. 
To its eternal shame, football’s global body breaks its own constitution by discriminating against Turkish Cypriots, who are banned from playing even friendly matches with Fifa-registered teams. And for all Fifa’s bluster about finding a formula to allow Cypriot teams to play under a common umbrella, it has also failed miserably on this front too. 
So thank God for Conifa because some competitive international football is better than none. A few months ago they brought the Euros to North Cyprus, where our national side were runners-up after losing to Padania in a thrilling game that ended in penalties. 
The Conifa World Cup in London will be a whole other ball game (pun intended): Britain is footy-mad, it loves quirky stories and underdogs. It’s also the global capital of the world. If the organisers can pitch this correctly, they can attract serious attention from the media and public alike. And there will be tens of thousands of British Turkish Cypriots rooting for the TRNC to “win, win, win”, while telling every person who asks, “Balls to embargoes”!
I don’t know about you, but suddenly I feel like North Cyprus can move any mountain? Hang on, I feel a football chant coming on . . . 
 

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