Key university reforms are voted into law

The government on Wednesday managed to push a contentious bill for university reform through Parliament, securing the support of the main conservative opposition New Democracy and raising hopes of an elusive cross-party consensus on broader reforms that the country?s Socialist administration has been seeking since the debt crisis took hold.

The bill – which paves the way for independent evaluations of university academics and for restrictions on the length of time students have to complete their degrees – was voted into law following two days of debate in Parliament.

Apart from ND, the legislation also got the backing of the center-right Democratic Alliance and the rightwing Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) but was rejected by all the leftwing parties, which accused the government of trying to ?demolish? the state university system.

Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou thanked all the MPs who voted for the bill, describing their decision as ?an act of political maturity.?

?This is the first time since before 1974 that more than 250 MPs have approved a bill on university reform,? Diamantopoulou said, referring to the date of the restoration of democracy in Greece following the fall of a military dictatorship.

ND, which has rebuffed a series of overtures by Socialist PASOK for consensus on austerity measures, threw its support behind the bill following reassurances by Diamantopoulou and a concession according to which rectors will be chosen from two or three candidates proposed by the university council.

ND also had sought the reintroduction of a provision introduced under a previous conservative government for the full abolition of university asylum, which bans the presence of police on university grounds. Diamantopoulou reassured the conservatives that the new law amounts to a full abolition of asylum and that the revocation of old amendments is unnecessary.

ND had also wanted a guarantee that student unions could participate in the election of university administrative boards, representing a symbolic 5 percent of the vote. This request was rejected by Diamantopoulou but did not turn out to be a dealbreaker.

The vote was preceded by a flurry of telephone diplomacy. Both Diamantopoulou and Prime Minister George Papandreou spoke with ND leader Antonis Samaras.

Also, sources told Kathimerini, both PASOK and ND dispatched influential deputies to talk round skeptics so that the university reforms, which ND has long championed, could be voted into law.

As expected, Wednesday?s vote in Parliament fueled protests on the streets of the capital but the turnout was small – a few hundred – as many university students and professors are on vacation. There were reports of minor scuffles but no major violence.