Greek R&D cannot progress without university reform

Greece’s spending on research and development amounts to a meager 0.5 percent of gross domestic product – three times less than the European Union average. This largely explains the country’s lagging economic competitiveness, which cannot improve without further innovation. I am afraid that the prospects for an improvement are not bright. In all advanced countries, the research mechanisms are almost exclusively based on the collaboration between universities and business. In Greece, unfortunately, as a recent report by a committee of rectors attested, the situation in tertiary education is in such a bad state and the attitude of business is so shortsighted that the results can only be disappointing. Indeed, how could they be any different when universities are still governed by the laws of the 1980s, there is still no time limit for students to graduate, and student unionists elect academic staff with scant reference to merit? Or when private enterprise is indifferent and does not fund research programs from which it could benefit? The University of Piraeus last week conferred an honorary doctorate on Theodoros Papalexopoulos, a former chairman of the Federation of Greek Industries and a leading figure of Titan cement company. Professor Nikos Karamouzis, deputy managing director of Eurobank, had some interesting things to say in his proposal for the award, which are worth reporting: «The areas of potential cooperation are many and important: graduate training, scholarships for excelling students, funding research centers, enhancing employment opportunities for students, bolstering university infrastructure and supporting graduate studies. Some positive steps have been made in this direction, despite the anachronistic views of some organized minorities and the antiquated legal and institutional framework which does not encourage such initiatives. «But if it took boldness and many years before the launch recently of a debate on the creation of private non-profit universities, it will take even larger doses of boldness, vision and commitment to reform and modernize the present system of tertiary education which is burdened by so many problems. «The deep changes needed require time to take hold, and social and political consensus to be implemented, but also boldness, courage and determination… We must recognize that there is no time to lose, for the changes around us are fast and significant. Failure to reform tertiary education will have negative consequences on the economy, society and all of us. «The creation of private non-profit universities and their reliable operation, which will take a lot of time and money, is not the only means for improving the situation. Comprehensive policy measures of a long-term character are needed. «Without credible and internationally recognized universities that offer prestigious graduate study programs… the country is essentially becoming poorer.»