The government’s insistence on refusing to allow private universities to operate in Greece not only defies international trends, but is also unreasonable from an economic and social point of view.
It is even more irritating when we look at Cyprus and see the benefits it has reaped from giving private universities the green light. It has brought thousands of foreign students to Cyprus who are boosting the economy and the country’s human capital, and at the same time created new job opportunities for educators and academics while compelling public universities to step up their game or lose to the competition.
Even if we look at the issue from the perspective of social justice, banning private universities doesn’t do anything for the have-nots anyway. Children from well-to-do families will most likely study abroad come what may, usually in the USA, but also in some big European nations.
As for children of the less well-off, they cannot afford a foreign education but they would possibly have more chances of getting a place at a public school if more spaces were freed up by wealthier students opting for private universities and could also benefit from the scholarship programs these institutions offer.
This brings us to the overwhelming majority of children whose families are in the broader middle class. Today many of these youngsters are either deprived of a university education or have to move to a nearby country for an education of questionable quality. And their families have to spend thousands of euros on tuition fees, accommodation, air fare and daily expenses.
Wouldn’t it be better if these children could stay in Greece, channeling those tuition fees into the domestic market, giving work to Greek professors, renting apartments from locals, eating locally, shopping here and so on?
The anachronistic constitutional ban on private universities does not harm the haves; instead, it gives them a greater advantage over everyone else.
A group of leading academics recently submitted an article to Kathimerini arguing that the revision of Article 16 of the Greek Constitution has become a question of democracy. The discussion on the issue by the competent parliamentary committee, meanwhile, is a welcome departure from the usual conflict on narrow partisan grounds; it is a civilized and fruitful dialogue, in which we are hearing voices of reason from across the political spectrum.
It is an opportunity for MPs to show consensus and flexibility. They could come up with prudent wording that could facilitate getting an absolute majority for the change of the article to move to the next step, allowing for the possibility that it will be amended at a later date if it then garners the necessary increased majority it would need in Parliament.