University reform splits coalition

Plans to reform Greece’s tertiary education sector appear to be threatening the coalition’s cohesion more than a series of fiscal measures as the government’s junior partner, Democratic Left (DIMAR), dismissed the Athena scheme for reducing the number of university departments as “superficial.”

The scheme, which among other things foresees the closure of 97 departments, mostly at technical colleges, has already met with opposition from academics and students. Democratic Left’s statement was the first sign of strong resistance within the coalition itself.

“No institutional body has had a say on this after the minister submitted his final plan but the law stipulates that there should be an evaluation,” said the leftist party. “The proposals for fewer students to be admitted will be a fatal blow for a number of institutions.”

Critics say that plans presented by Education Minister Constantinos Arvanitopoulos simply aim to reduce public spending by merging and closing down departments and that this has led to some illogical decisions about which courses should be scrapped.

Democratic Left suggested the government should adopt a more targeted approach. DIMAR proposed that Arvanitopoulos should first impose a 50 percent pass mark for departments where more than half of the students have been accepted with a grade of less than 50 percent in their senior high school exams. The leftists suggest that universities, technical colleges and research centers should be allowed to find ways of cooperating to complement each other and minimize costs.

Lecturers and students at several university departments are due to walk out in protest at the Athena plan over the next few days.

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