The application of the “Theological School of the Church of Cyprus (TSCC)” has been selected for the award of the Erasmus Charter for Higher Education (ECHE) for the period 2021-2027. The award was announced to the TSCC on 22ndof December 2020. By applying for this Charter, our institution has committed itself to implementing the activities funded by the Erasmus+ Programme in line with the fundamental principles of the Charter and to publishing the Erasmus Policy Statement of our institution on our website within one month of receipt of the Charter.
Erasmus Policy Statement
The Theological School of the Church of Cyprus (TSCC) is a recently established Higher Educational Institution (HEI) that started operation in September 2015 in Nicosia, under the auspices of the Archdiocese of the Church of Cyprus. TSCC aims to make a significant intellectual, cultural and social contribution to European Higher Education, as it is committed to international standards of excellence in academia and research. In TSCC, high quality teaching and inclusive academic culture, inspire students and staff to develop their full potential in a technologically advanced environment. TSCC is the only non-governmental HEI in Cyprus which is registered as a non-profit organization. It provides the students with scholarships and subsidies, resulting to a low cost or even a free education, for a large proportion of its students. It is not antagonistic to other HEIs, as it offers programs that are not offered by any other HEI in Cyprus. Τhe Archdiocese of Cyprus is the main sponsor of TSCC and finances generously the infrastructure, the acquisition and use of new technologies and software, the creation and development of the library and databases, the research, as well as the recruitment of the best academics and administrators in the field. High standards and transparency in each administrative procedure, excellence in teaching and research, as well as social contribution comprise the foundation stones of the first vital years of the TSCC. The achievements of the TSCC are established by the accreditation of its two programs of study: “Theology (4 Years / 240 ECTS, Bachelor)” and “Applications of Psychology and Counselling in the Community (2 years / 120 ECTS, Masters)” by the Cyprus Agency of Quality Assurance and Accreditation in Higher Education (CYQAA), the award of the Erasmus Charter for Higher Education (ECHE) in 2017 and 2021, and the enrolment of graduates in professional bodies (such as the list of appointees for Secondary Education employment). In the coming years, TSCC plans further expansion, by setting up new programmes of study (a Masters in Hermeneutics and Liturgy, a PhD in Psychology and even a Joint Master’s Degree with a Greek university in History and Pedagogy). Strategically, the plan of development and sustainability of TSCC incorporates the objectives and priorities of the European Education Area and, especially, builds upon the pillars of internationalization and modernization. For these reasons, TSCC considers the acquisition of Erasmus Charter and the implementation of Erasmus mobility and cooperation activities and projects to be significantly vital.
The first pillar of development for TSCC is internationalization. TSCC views higher education as a catalyst for open-mindedness, acceptance of cultural diversity, sharing of common values and development of a European Identity. TSCC, lying geographically at the crossroad of Europe and the Middle East, serving at the same time the enduring tradition of the Church of Cyprus and the ideals of internationalization, is in the best position to develop strong and beneficial relations within and across the borders of Europe. From its establishment, TSCC has been open to accepting international students. Currently, enrolled students from European, Asian and African countries are studying and enjoying the same fees, scholarships and benefits with Cypriot students. Our international students enrich the climate of inclusion and acceptance. Moreover, visiting professors from abroad support both programs of study. So far, we have visiting academics from Greece, Germany, Lebanon, and Turkey. This policy expedites the attainment of the highest quality standards in teaching and empowers the open-mindedness amongst staff and students. Social contribution and active citizenship are strongly cultivated in both students and staff through many activities and in the everyday life of the TSCC as this forms a vital part of the identity of our institution.
The second pillar of development for TSCC is modernization. In fact, TSCC’s philosophy and practices epitomize the combination of tradition and modernity. Our aim is to equip students with all the necessary skills and knowledge to study the past with an eye to the future, to get to know tradition through the use of rigorous scientific methods, and overall, to respect the past and create the future. TSCC is housed in a traditional building in the historic city centre of Nicosia. We have developed the TSCC campus with a spirit of protecting its cultural heritage and respecting the environment, providing students and staff all modern amenities required for a HEI of the future. There is a modern library with up-to-date software providing immediate access to its catalogue, as well as a large database of scientific literature of journal articles and other resources. All classrooms are equipped with modern interactive boards for teaching. Upon registration TSCC provides all undergraduate students with a free laptop and a Microsoft Office 365 licence. Courses are supported by an electronic online platform (Moodle) where most day-to-day activities are hosted, from sharing of class notes and additional reading material, to communicating, planning activities, submitting assignments, providing feedback to students and many more. There are modern computer labs with specialized software for studying and research, such as SPSS, R, E-prime, Adobe Photoshop and other software. Concerning administrative procedures, the complete digitalization is part of this ongoing modernization strategy. TSCC has already employed many digitalization tools, including the Erasmus mobility tool, CRM, for the digital management of students’ information and academic progress (courses, grades, transcripts), etc. and personnel information, Sofia for digital management of all accounts (CRM and Sofia are interconnected). The readiness of staff and students with modern technology was an invaluable resource in the sudden need for distance learning that arose recently due to the Covid19 pandemic. When national authorities imposed restrictions on traditional teaching activities of Higher Education Institutions, TSCC moved all its operations online, including lectures, support services to students and exams, within days, without any serious change in its planned and published academic calendar. To do this we took advantage of access TSCC already had to specialized teleconference software such as Microsoft Teams, and made further use of the tools of Moodle.
To support international relations and research collaborations, as well as European and International mobility, TSCC has established the Research and International Relations Office (RIRO). RIRO is currently served by three members of staff: (1) the director, a highly experienced academic in research and all Erasmus+ programmes, (2) the Research Coordinator, an academic specialized in research methods and statistics, who has experience in participating in Erasmus+ funded research programmes, and (3) the Erasmus mobility Coordinator, a qualified and experienced administrator, who manages all the Erasmus mobilities. All three work part-time in the RIRO office and, because of the small size of TSCC, they have other duties as well. The main achievements of the RIRO office are: (a) the acquisition of the first Erasmus Charter and the design preparation and implementation of Erasmus policies for TSCC, the procedures, the Erasmus forms, the Erasmus website, the management of incoming and outgoing staff and students, and the organization of all the events for promoting Erasmus. An Erasmus committee, with representatives of students, academic and administrative staff, is applying clear, transparent and fair criteria for mobility selection. We conducted our first inter-institutional agreements within the networks of our six permanent faculty members. We consider that, in collaboration with the National Agency of Life Long Learning, we made a good start with KA1 (ΚΑ103). Although, incoming and outgoing mobilities are in a small scale, the quality and the results of our implementation are highly appraised. (b) The second important achievement of RIRO is the support provided to academic and research faculty to promote their research activities: (i) by funding schemes, (ii) by providing time for research as part their regular workload, (iii) by training them and encouraging them to prepare research proposals. Academic staff who had previous experience in participating in funded research projects made some good attempts to secure research funding. In 2020, TSCC applied as an active partner it two Erasmus+ programs in KA2 and KA3 projects, one of which (KA3) was successfully awarded funding.
For TSCC, the participation in the Erasmus+ Programme is the vehicle for reaching further goals in its internationalisation and modernisation strategy. TSCC also declares its readiness to follow the objectives and priorities of the Erasmus+ Programme in order to maintain a dynamic position in the European Education Area. The objectives of TSCC participation in the Erasmus+ Programme for mobility and cooperation activities and projects are the following: (a) Increase the outgoing students’ mobility for studies and traineeship. (b) Increase the outgoing academic and administrative staff for teaching and training. (c) Increase the incoming students, academic and administrative staff mobility. (d) Apply in the next call of KA107 and participate in it (TSCC has strong relations with partner HEI and churches in the Near East, Africa, Eastern European countries out of the EU and North America. To gain the KA107 is one of its main goals). (e) Apply each year for at least one KA2 and one KA3 cooperation research project. In order to achieve these targets, we intend to pursue the policy objectives, which are described below. We also explain how we expect that the participation in the Erasmus+ Programme will contribute towards modernising TSCC, as well as building a European Education Area, characterised by internationalization.
Modernization of TSCC and policy objectives:
As we have already described, modernization of TSCC is in a good state, however we need to reach the full potential of technological advancement in education, both in terms of tools and in terms of the acquisition of digital skills. Through the participation in the Erasmus+ program, we will advance digitalisation and simplify administrative processes associated with Erasmus+ mobilities and projects. TSCC puts forward the following seven policy objectives to achieve full modernisation in education:
First, the blended mobility will become a part of our Erasmus policy for incoming students. The mode of distance learning, which has been achieved by TSCC during the Covid19 pandemic, could become a good base for a start of blended mobility. Then, more concrete and clear policies will be developed, by following the suggestions of our National Agency.
Second, RIRO will adopt the full implementation of the EWP Dashboard – Erasmus without paper. In TSCC we already use many digitalization tools for administrative tasks and for teaching and studying, so we are ready to use EWP Dashboard to provide the basic functionality needed to manage the mobility processes of Erasmus.
Third, the Erasmus+ mobile App will immediately be promoted to students. It will offer them a digital one-stop-shop, providing them with information, tips, notifications and other services and help them organise their periods of mobility easier. Students will be informed about the Erasmus+ mobile App during the coming Erasmus Information Day and additional help will be given especially to new mobility students.
Fourth, the European Student Card initiative will be implemented, step by step, as suggested by ECHE. The European Student Card initiative is the epitome of modernization of the Erasmus mobility program. It offers straightforward and secure online administrative procedures, which will allow students to find all the information they need to experience a high-quality mobility experience abroad and will boost student mobility across Europe.
Fifth, the use of the Erasmus+ Online Linguistic Support (OLS) by mobility students will be reinforced. One weakness of the TSCC Erasmus program up to now is that our students have been afraid of using OLS and prefered to accomplish mobilities in Greek Universities.
Sixth, the investment in offering training for students and staff in order to become competent users of digitalisation. We currently have only one IT course in our undergraduate program. This does not seem to be enough, especially for mature students, who are not technologically competent. Therefore, TSCC plans to offer first year undergraduate students an additional, more advanced IT course, in the second semester. For academic and administration staff, we aim to continue offering trainings and seminars for any new tool or application in order to build capacity.
Seventh, applications for KA2 and KA3 programs, which contribute towards digital competencies and technology. We have experienced academics, who have already worked and/or applied for programs related to media literacy skills for educators, digital skills for prisoners, and ICT skills for refugees. Similar projects will also be pursued in the future by our academic staff and their collaborators.
By describing the above seven objectives for advancing modernisation of TSCC, we expect that in the next seven years we will reach full digitalization of Erasmus procedures. This will have an impact on making the procedures easier and automatic, on facilitating our students to have all information available and making better informed choices for their studies and maximizing the benefits from mobility. It will make the administration work and the communication with the National Agency easier and more accessible for evaluation. These simplified procedures will help establish better connection of TSCC to other HEIs. It will increase digital skills for all, students, academic and administrative staff. Specifically, students will become better prepared for working in a technologically advanced European society and a competitive and demanding labour market. The competences and skills from using digitalization in Erasmus+ Program, can be extend in using more digital tools in the administration of TSCC (e.g., TSCC online application for our prospective students). Digitalization will increase environmental friendly actions, such as digitally signed documents and electronic forms, which do not have to be printed. Modernization and the use of blended mobility will increase the number of students who will benefit from Erasmus mobility. TSCC, by implementing the full digitalization of Erasmus+ program, will acquire an equal position in the European Education Area.
Internationalization of TSCC & European Education Area, and policy objectives:
TSCC, from its foundation, belongs to the European Education Area and follows the principles of internationalization. However, there is always space for improvement, and through the participation in the Erasmus+ program, we will fully accomplish the principles of the European Education Area. TSCC, to achieve full internationalisation in education, has planned the following seven policy objectives:
First, retain all the internationalization policies that we have already implemented in TSCC: The full and automatic recognition of studies. The supportive approach and high quality procedures for facilitating outgoing students and staff as well as incoming students and staff. The dissemination of all information regarding our courses and Erasmus mobility, which are published and regularly updated on our website.
Second, further support the existing inclusive, non-discrimination policies of TSCC towards students and staff. These policies are applied in the selection criteria and procedures relating to Erasmus mobility. Moreover, encourage, motivate and facilitate students form disadvantaged backgrounds to have the chance for a mobility experience. Adoption of the mode of blended mobility will be our priority, as for most of our students, Erasmus mobility is not an option. Half of them are working adults with family responsibilities and some others are facing health problems, disability issues or educational difficulties and feel more comfortable to remain in Cyprus for their studies, rather than travel abroad.
Third, more encouragement will be given to academic staff for mobility. A weakness of the Erasmus program up to now was that we did not implement a mobility of academic staff. The campaign for academic staff mobility will develop based on specific information and will target focusing on the benefits of a mobility for their academic development, exchanging of ideas on teaching methods, knowledge transfer and exchange of good practices. Emphasis will also be given to the opportunities for networking and collaboration in research projects. On practical terms, academics will be assured that the whole duration of their mobility period is considered as part of their regular workload. Most importantly, teaching and training mobility activities are recognised as a component of their yearly evaluation and are taken into consideration for their promotion. Full support will be given to help academics with the completion of the application and to facilitate their mobility. (We will also keep up the good job we are doing with administrative staff, as we have a satisfying response from administrative staff).
Fourth, contribution in European cooperation activities and projects within KA2 and KA3, by participating in successful applications and successful implementations of projects. TSCC managed to participate as a partner in two recent applications in KA2 and in KA3. The goal is to invest in the already created consortiums and expertise and apply in more projects, both as partner and as coordinator. RIRO will support and encourage the involvement of all the academics with such applications, by offering information on topics on their expertise, and by offering help in finding partners and in completing the practical aspects of funding applications.
Fifth, more encouragement to attract incoming students to study in TSCC. The low cost of accommodation and food, the ease of access and the family-friendly environment make TSCC a welcoming destination for incoming students, especially those with fewer opportunities. Measures for having a flow of incoming students will be taken this year: information on the facilities of TSCC and on student life in the TSCC and Nicosia will be sent to Erasmus officers at the universities with which we have inter institutional agreements; further contacts will be made through our visiting academics.
Sixth, more rigorous implementation of the European principles and values, in all aspects of TSCC activities and policies. Environmental friendly attitudes and behaviours, civic engagement and citizenship, cultivation of common values, such as human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. Most importantly, we will try to inspire TSCC students to become aware of the content and the value of European identity and become committed to European identity.
Seventh, recruit an Erasmus Coordinator in full-time mode. The targets for increasing mobility in all groups both incoming and outgoing and the digitalization of Erasmus mobility procedures for TSCC, needs a full time committed person.
By describing the above seven objectives for advancing internationalisation of TSCC, we expect that in the next seven years we will have a dynamic position in the European Education Area. Most of all, we expect that TSCC students who participate in mobility or collaboration projects will benefit from the best education and training, and develop their potential for employability. They will also experience the European cultural heritage and they will be exposed to new teaching methods, new educational systems, new customs, new friendships and inspiration. TSSC students who participate in Erasmus mobility or training, or those who will experience European culture through visiting academics and incoming students, will become open minded and will share Europe’s common values for establishing a stronger European identity and work towards cohesion, peaceful existence and economic growth. Students with Erasmus mobility experience will be better equipped to find employment across Europe. Incoming students and staff will benefit from the culture of social contribution and the high quality in TSCC academic life. Through Erasmus mobility and Erasmus collaboration projects, academics will greatly benefit from the European dimension in teaching, from exchanging good practices, creating networks, collaborating in transnational research partnerships and working in important projects with high impact in European education and society. TSCC, though these exchanges of students, academics and administrative staff, will build on new capacities, enrich its administrative procedures, improve even more the quality of teaching, expand research collaborations, increase participation in international consortia and evolve. TSCC aspires to establish itself as an important European teaching and research institution, able to positive influence and impact Europe. In this respect, TSCC fully supports the idea of the European Education Area, and aspires to have a significant contribution to its establishment.