ECONOMY

Report calls for reforms in education and research

A report by the National Council on Competitiveness and Development shows Greece lagging behind other EU countries in crucial sectors, such as education, the state administration and new technologies. The report, presented yesterday by Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos, shows that weakness in these sectors has a crucial impact on the country’s competitiveness. The lack of competitiveness is reflected in the very low value of exports. Besides, structural weaknesses prevent the State’s welfare policies from pulling many people out of poverty, despite the country’s high economic growth. The report also shows that Greece has the second highest percentage of people who have lived below the poverty level for three years among current European Union members (13 percent versus an EU average of 9 percent). Only Portugal is faring worse. Despite the State’s redistributive policies, the degree of poverty in Greece has been reduced by only two percentage points, from 22 percent to 20 percent. By contrast, in Ireland state intervention helps reduce poverty from 31 percent to 20 percent of the population; in Portugal, from 27 to 21 percent; in the Netherlands, from 21 percent to 10 percent; and in Finland, from 19 to 11 percent. Specifically, the report says that the education and professional training systems have not been sufficiently adapted to the needs of the market and a globalized economy. Lifetime training is very rare and does not cover the workforce’s needs in specialized skills, leaving it unprepared for the introduction of new technologies and changes in production methods. Public sector efficiency also remains low. Bureaucratic red tape results in increased costs for both professionals and enterprises. The quality of services offered does not correspond to the resources provided. Greece lags behind in the dissemination of new technologies and spends relatively little on research and development. These result in fewer innovative companies than in other countries. The country’s efforts to support entrepreneurship and regional growth have proven ineffective, while the new mechanisms recently set up have not yet proven their capabilities. Several markets suffer from skewed competition and this has an effect on costs and prices. The Greek economy is still a relatively closed one and certainly less export-oriented than other EU economies. Despite a recent decline, joblessness remains high, especially long-term unemployment, and income disparities are greater than in other EU countries. THe report calls for urgent intervention in the educational system, reducing the bureaucratic burden on enterprises, and more funds for research, development and innovation.