PM to back contentious university bill

Prime Minister George Papandreou is expected to throw his weight behind a contentious bill for university reform that is to be submitted in Parliament on Tuesday, as Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou indicates her readiness to amend certain aspects of the bill to appease protesting academics.

Education was a dominant topic in a meeting of top ministers chaired by Papandreou on Monday. The premier is on Tuesday expected to champion the proposed reforms – which foresee the independent evaluation of university academics and restrictions on the length of time students have to complete their degrees – with the aim of getting Cabinet skeptics in line.

One of these skeptics is believed to be Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, one of the premier?s two deputies. Venizelos has avoided commenting on the draft legislation so far – a silence that has been interpreted by many as criticism of Diamantopoulou?s bill.

Diamantopoulou, for her part, has indicated that the proposed reforms are just a draft and that she is open to debate on some of the provisions in order to secure cross-party backing.

The ministry has reportedly offered several concessions to protesting academics, whose reservations about proposed changes to university administration have been reflected in a new report by a cross-parliamentary committee. Among these are an increase of the number of non-university officials on university councils to eight from seven; allowing associate professors to participate in these councils; granting the university Senate additional administrative powers and the recognition of five-year courses at technical colleges and agricultural schools as postgraduate degrees.

It remains unclear whether these concessions will satisfy university professors and students, who are planning a protest rally outside the main entrance to Athens University at noon on Tuesday when a vote is due to be held in Parliament on the controversial bill.