COMMENT

Education reform at what price?

By Nikos Xydakis

The government’s plans to abolish and merge a significant number of university departments and tertiary education institutions, together with an anticipated reduction in the number of new entrants, signify important changes to the Greek higher education system. Most of the reactions against the plans have been based on the argument that having university departments spread all over the country is an easy way to bring revenues to local communities. But this comes at a great cost for the country as a whole. The argument is even more baseless for new institutions, such as, for example, the universities of the Peloponnese, Western Greece and Western Macedonia, which are not part of any greater national strategy for innovation or even to boosting local economies. These institutions, like others, also fail to play a geostrategic role, as has the University of the Aegean, which has also stood out for its academic standards. Moreover, local communities often do not embrace universities and their students.

That said, this significant piece of educational reform can be criticized because it has been cobbled together in the same rushed and sloppy manner as other important reforms presented by the political leadership. The most convincing proof of the slipshoddiness of it all was that the Education Ministry could not present precise figures for the reduction in the number of entrants expected. Some put the number at 12,500 per year; one can only ask where this great army of unemployed young people will go.

The biggest question, however, lies elsewhere: Is there some lofty plan to boost the economy in the long run or a desire to elevate intellectual standards governing this reform, or is it solely about cost-cutting? Can the country’s secondary educational system support these changes? What will the role of technical colleges be? What kind of productive model and what standard of formal education do we envision for Greece in the future? Is there a plan for the reformation of the agricultural economy, for industry and commerce, a plan for boosting the sciences and innovation? If so, how are these strategies being aligned with the reform of the education system?

Unfortunately, we see no such strategy at play. Unfortunately, this reform, like so many others, is being dictated by nothing more than cost, the bottom line after horizontal cost-cutting measures. Sure, the cost of tertiary education to the state and the taxpayer must be reduced, but we should also calculate the cost of doing it in such a manner for the next generations.

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