Mature students seek education

Students at the Greek Open University are to have a choice of six undergraduate programs for the 2004-2005 academic year, for 3,200 students and 18 postgraduate programs with a total of 1,960 places. Applications – which are already being accepted – are expected to reach 50,000 for a total of 5,160 places by the deadline of December 10. The final selection will be made by a draw on December 20. Demand is high, since the Greek Open University provides people with a unique opportunity to improve their chances in a competitive labor market. According to the university’s records, six in 10 of the students are aged 25-35, an age when people still have time to change their careers or improve their existing position, although this also applies to some older students. Competition in the labor market is driving more and more 30-somethings to seek further education. Most are already working, some have a family, but they are seeking a first or second degree in order to get ahead. Alexandros Lykourgiotis, head of the university’s administrative committee, told Kathimerini there would be six additional postgraduate programs with a total of 420 places in 2004-2005. In the last three years, there have been over 40,000 applications every year, double those in 1999 when the university first opened. In the last academic year, there were 42,855 applications for 5,560 places. Associate Professor Vasso Hadzinikita said that one in 14 applicants was accepted for the business management program in 2002-2003, and one in nine for the computer science program. The postgraduate program «Studies in Education» attracted 5,797 applicants for only 400 places. Hadzinikita said that many of these were teachers in state schools trying to get a better job. Long-distance learning is already well established in the USA and in Europe there are similar institutions in Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany and Portugal. Britain’s is considered the most successful with 250,000 students, and 70,000 each in Germany and Spain. According to its rector, Spyros Tzamarias, the Greek Open University is planning to provide an alternative teaching network using CD-ROMs, software and other supplementary educational material. However, accustomed to the nationwide entrance exams for university placement, Greeks still have their reservations about new types of universities. «Our goal is to provide a high standard of education. Although places are allotted by a draw, very few pass on to the second year,» said Tzamarias. «It depends on the program. For example, only half of first-year computer science students move on to the second year, 60 percent of humanities students and 20 percent of science students. Of course, in the third and fourth years more than 80 percent manage to pass,» he added. For the first time ever in Greece, a doctoral student has been chosen to publish his research in the journal of the European Nuclear Research Center (CERN). The main problem, according to Hadzinikita, is the shortage of administrative staff and the huge volume of work involved in coordinating teaching staff and students so that everything, from books, notes, tutorial arrangements and so on, is properly organized. Funding, as with all universities, is also an issue, as it has not increased in step with the programs’ requirements.