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Although the "TRNC" was by most standards still a so-called "developing society" at the beginning of the 1990s, with a per capita income and other social indicators similar to those of Greece, Turkey, and Chile, the Turkish Cypriot educational level was that of more advanced countries. The Turkish Cypriot literacy rate stood at 97 percent, and there was a high number of university students. These educational attainments stemmed in part from relatively enlightened British rule in the colonial period and the close adherence of Turkish Cypriots to Atatürk's educational reforms. These reforms entailed the adoption of the Latin alphabet and an emphasis on secular values. Also contributing to the educational successes were the easily manageable size of the Turkish Cypriot society and the readily apparent importance of a well-trained work force if the "TRNC" were to prosper.

Few Turkish Cypriots received a university education in the period before the island became independent in 1960, and those who did frequently did not return to Cyprus upon completion of their studies. A sign of the scarcity of university graduates was that a high school graduate in the 1940s and 1950s immediately attained a respectable position in the bureaucracy.

The lack of university-educated Turkish Cypriots created a serious problem when government agencies were staffed according to the 70 to 30 Greek Cypriot to Turkish Cypriot ratio agreed upon when the Republic of Cyprus was established in 1960. To overcome this problem, Turkish Cypriots began a massive education training program by sending their high-school graduates to universities in Turkey. To facilitate this process, the Turkish authorities provided special quotas for Turkish Cypriot students. Thus, Cypriot Turks obtained easier access to university education in Turkey than mainland Turks. This procedure ended in the late 1970s. Since then, Turkish Cypriots have participated in the general university entrance examination set by the Turkish Ministry of Education.

Turkish Cypriots set up their own education system after the de facto partition of the island in 1974. At the beginning of the 1990s, they had schools and universities that taught their youth from age four up to the graduate level. A preprimary school system was not yet run by the state, but in many areas private kindergartens were in operation. The public school system, under the direction of the Ministry of Education, Sports, and Youth, began with primary school, free and compulsory for all children between the ages of six and fifteen. Primary school was divided into two stages, the first for children aged six to twelve, and the second for children between thirteen and fifteen. Three years of secondary education, for youth sixteen to eighteen took place at lycées (high schools) offering general academic courses and at technical and vocational schools providing specialized training.

The Turkish Cypriot education system expanded rapidly, with regard to both numbers and types of schools and students (see table 9, "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus": Schools, Teachers, and Enrollments, 1976-77 and 1988-89). The number of pre-primary and elementary schools increased significantly. In these institutions, the student-teacher ratio also improved, from thirty in 1976-77 to twenty-seven in pre-primary and twenty-three in elementary schools in 1988-89. At the junior high-school level, the student/teacher ratio improved from twenty in 1976-77 to twenty-two in 1988-89. The figures in 1986-87 for the lycées and colleges were 20 and 15.6, respectively. In the vocational and technical schools, the 1988-89 figures indicated a student/teacher ratio of eight to one, a tremendous advantage for individual student training. In terms of literacy, state statistics show important improvements. The rate of those attending school in 1987 was: seven to twelve years of age, 98 percent; thirteen to fifteen, 66 percent; and fifteen to eighteen, 50 percent.

Turkish Cypriot teachers often studied abroad, but they could also receive their training from a domestic teacher training college. The Higher Technical Institute and the Eastern Mediterranean University (EMU) at Famagusta provided education at the university level, as did the private University College of North Cyprus and the religious institution at Lefke University. EMU, the largest of these schools, offered courses in engineering, business, and economics. The medium of teaching at this university was English, a considerable attraction, and most of its students were foreigners, mainly Turks. Enrollment grew rapidly. During the 1984-85 academic year, EMU had 458 students. Enrollment nearly tripled the following year and in the 1990-91 academic year amounted to 3,585. Two-thirds of the students were Turkish, 715 were Turkish Cypriots, and most of the remainder came from other Middle Eastern countries. In addition to those enrolled at the EMU, 1,875 Turkish Cypriots attended foreign universities in 1988, 1,580 of them in Turkey. The United States and Britain each had more than 100 Turkish Cypriot university students.

The growing emphasis on university education among Turkish Cypriots was not without its drawbacks. Since the available jobs for university graduates were limited in such a small state, many graduates choose to remain outside Cyprus. This was especially true of those with advanced degrees. The resulting brain drain might be reduced by the continued expansion of EMU.

Lefke University was founded in 1990 by the Cyprus Science Wakf (a religious foundation) with US$2 million in funds from the Islamic Development Bank. The university had as its goal the combining of Islamic principles with advanced education for the benefit of students of the Middle East. It was thus a departure from the Turkish Cypriot tradition of secular education. At its founding, however, the new university had strong links not with Turkish Cypriots, but rather with Saudi Arabian groups and Turkish Islamists who wished to establish a university according to their ideals in Turkey. Strong opposition from Turkey's academic institutions forced them to settle on Lefka as a suitable site. The new university's closeness to Turkey, and the agreement that Turkish and Turkish Cypriot citizens enjoy preferential treatment in each other's state, would mean that Turkish students of a Islamist bent would be able to study there. Some observers feared that Lefke University will have negative effects on the Turkish Cypriot tradition of secularism. Others welcomed the establishment of a center of sharia in the "TRNC."

Data as of January 1991

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