ECONOMY

Education free but below standard

Greece’s tertiary education sector is in dire need of upgrading but this cannot be done by the state, which provides free but very low-quality education, according to a report published yesterday. «An increase in funding for education is vitally necessary, but this cannot be done through the state budget,» notes Alpha Bank’s report, titled «The Funding of Tertiary Education.» «The unfortunate thing is that those entrusted with introducing changes in society usually send their children abroad to study. Until about the early 1990s, the children of prosperous families would acquire a first degree from a Greek university before leaving for postgraduate studies abroad. Now they leave as soon as they finish high school,» continues the study. «Those who should be pressing for an improved education system are the great majority of the citizens of this country, who today misguidedly support the free but low-quality system of education,» say Alpha Bank’s economists. Some 45,000 Greeks studying abroad are estimated to spend 350 million euros annually. The report maintains that education can become one of the country’s most dynamic, productive and export-oriented sectors, and, at the same time, a key infrastructure sector for the growth of its economy. For this to happen, a drastic change in thinking is needed along the following lines: First, tertiary education is a good whose acquisition entails significant time and money and considerable effort by the individuals who opt for it. At the same time, however, it can also generate enormous benefits, both for the individuals themselves and society as a whole. «Therefore, both the costs and the benefits of tertiary education must be fully understood by students and society. Students choosing to continue in tertiary education, who are admitted to some university (private or public), must assume part of the ensuing cost, with some financial assistance from the state.» No free lunch «In life, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone always pays. When you pay for something you get, you appreciate it much more, and, of course, you always want the best value for the money you spend. If the universities charge fees and the state facilitates their payment, either through grants of loans, depending on students’ financial status, this will create a rational system of production and consumption of high-quality tertiary education services which will not hamper someone who has the aptitude but not the financial means to study. «Second,» the Alpha Bank study posits, «academics must assume a leading role in efforts to project the competitiveness of Greek education institutions and achieve the optimum utilization of available resources for the production of high quality teaching and research. «Greek universities have no need of protection if they are given the capability to operate competitively and autonomously,» the Alpha Bank study concludes.