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Cyprus: Universities

Volume 691: debated on Thursday 19 April 2007

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare a recent sponsored visit to Northern Cyprus.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the current application by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus for recognition of its six universities under the Council of Europe’s Bologna process.

My Lords, the Government’s assessment, which is generally shared by other countries in the Bologna process, is that the application in question and those being considered from Kosovo, Israel and the Kyrgyz Republic do not meet the criteria for membership of the process, because those criteria require member countries to have ratified the European cultural convention. The decision on this issue will, however, not be taken until Ministers meet in May.

My Lords, does my noble friend not recognise that it is wholly reprehensible that the six excellent universities in Northern Cyprus are unable to join the Bologna process, which seeks to strengthen the ties among universities in the European family, simply on the say-so of the Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus—it, incidentally, has only one university—because it is considered that it speaks for the whole island of Cyprus. Will my noble friend redouble his efforts to understand the difficult issues here and give some recognition to the Turkish Cypriots, who at least voted in favour of the Annan peace plan and have had little reward for it?

My Lords, the decision that I have just referred to is not being made, as my noble friend Lord Harrison put it, on the say-so of the Greek-Cypriot Government; it is the consensus of all members of the Bologna process, because the criteria for the Bologna process, as set out by Ministers in the Berlin communiqué of 2003, is that countries party to the European cultural convention shall be eligible for membership of the European higher education area, and the applicant in question is not party to the convention.

My Lords, what consideration has the Minister given to the financial impact on the Turkish-Cypriot universities if they continuously face declined membership of the Bologna process?

My Lords, they will not face declined membership; they are not part of the Bologna process at present. However, a number of activities are included in the Bologna process, which is about the structure of degrees and the transparency of higher education systems, and they are open to universities in the north of Cyprus. For example, a regular programme of seminars is organised, giving information about the Bologna process and encouraging the exchange of information between members. Those are open not only to countries and universities that are part of the Bologna process but more widely. As it happens, I am informed that no universities in the northern part of Cyprus have taken part in those. However, there are full and ample opportunities for universities in the northern part of Cyprus to engage.

My Lords, does the Minister realise how disappointing his Answer is? Do the Government grasp the practical implications that inevitably arise from the persistent and malicious campaign by Greek Cypriots, who continue to pursue their terrorism of the 1960s and 1970s into the field of commerce, communication and, now, education? Is it seemly that this Government should turn a blind eye to that? Irrespective of the European Union’s mishandling of the accession of Cyprus, are the Government going to continue to acquiesce in such blatant and persistent abuses of human rights?

My Lords, to coin a phrase, I think that it would set a dangerous precedent were I to range so wide of the Question, which is about the Bologna process. As I think the House is aware, the European Union remains committed to lifting the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots through financial and direct aid. However, it is clear that this isolation will be fully lifted only in the context of a comprehensive settlement to reunite the island, and Her Majesty’s Government are fully committed to that outcome.

My Lords, can the Minister give the House and the universities of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus any idea of the likely timescale for the consideration of their applications?

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that this is an academic and human rights issue, and will Her Majesty’s Government help to install the fundamental human rights of 45,000 students so that these six universities would be allowed to take part in the Bologna process?

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not agree with that. The Bologna process is a commitment by members to work towards greater transparency and comparability of degrees. It has nothing whatever to do with the recognition of universities or their qualifications. All countries can enter into the reforms that are part of the Bologna process, including those that are not part of it, and that includes universities in the northern part of Cyprus.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that there are some who do not take as strong a view as my noble friend on the broader political issues but who still find the Minister’s response a little disappointing? Does he not recognise that the north of Cyprus is within the territorial limits of the Council of Europe and the European Union, so it is surely wrong that academic institutions there do not get the benefits of the Bologna process? Is there no way of decoupling the status issue, on which the Government’s position is clear—I sympathise with it—from the issue of the academic excellence of these institutions? Is there no way in which the meeting in May can not only reject a formal application but bring out some of the positive points being made about how these institutions can be part of the Bologna process?

My Lords, no one has made a greater contribution to seeking to resolve the Cyprus problem than the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. I defer to his great wisdom in these matters, and I will certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my honourable friend Bill Rammell, the Minister for Further and Higher Education. However, I stress again that formal participation in the Bologna process, which is the issue at stake, needs to be separated from the making of those reforms that go with it and ensure much stronger university systems. The opportunities and aid available through seminars, supporting material and so on to universities that wish to engage in that process are fully available to universities in the northern part of Cyprus.