The problem arising from the abuse of the Greek university transfer system – whereby some students are allowed to move to an institution of their choice instead of the one they were admitted to after sitting the entrance exams – is nothing new. Some readers may recall earlier decades when the most popular courses in particular would start with 100 first-year students. That number would quickly rise to 120 with the addition of foreign students and ethnic Greeks before increasing even more with the transfer of Greek students from Italy, Romania, Bulgaria and what was then Yugoslavia.
This year’s transfers however have pushed the Greek education system close to breaking point. This time the difference is that students are not coming from abroad. About 40,000 are expected to request transfers from rural parts of the country to institutions in the big urban centers. The damage is two-fold. Universities in rural areas or on the islands will see a huge outflow of students while the major influx of students to the universities in the big cities will push the institutions over their already stretched capacities and lead them to paralysis.
This column has stated in the past that the decision to establish a number of universities in the provinces was misguided and unnecessary. It did not come in response to any genuine educational or national/regional needs. These institutions were set up with the aim of satisfying local interests. Nevertheless, the wave of transfers which will indiscriminately take a toll on all schools is not the wisest way to reform Greece’s higher institutions. In fact it is the surest way to undermine them, while the move will inflict a huge cost on the quality of education and the future of our young people – not to mention the country’s much-hyped regeneration.
Of course the state has to take into consideration the sorry economic situations of the students and their families, while officials have to cater to the needs of families with many children, the poor, and the long-term unemployed, but there are better ways to do this.
A quick solution would be to subsidize the accommodation fees of students who stay at hotels over the winter (for example on Crete, Rhodes and Corfu). Another would be to give out loans on preferential terms, and to reintroduce and expand halls of residence. Apart from providing comfort, these measures could also help spur demand.
All in all, it is in the medium-term interest to introduce incentives to support any peripheral institutions that serve the country’s plans on a nationwide scale and at the same time protect city universities from suffocating. Are Greek officials up to a job of such magnitude?