Premier defends new education bill opposition decries as regressive

Premier defends new education bill opposition decries as regressive

Eager to polish the government’s leftist credentials, tainted by yet another swath of belt-tightening measures, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Tuesday sought to defend a new education bill perceived as plunging Greek universities into the past.

The proposed legislation, which has also raised eyebrows among the nation’s foreign creditors, was harshly criticized by Kyriakos Mitsotakis during a heated parliamentary debate during which the conservative opposition leader outlined his rival vision for the country’s tertiary sector. A vote on the bill is to be held Wednesday.

Brushing aside criticism of the measures as reactionary, Tsipras said that his administration was “setting the foundations for the country’s future education [system].” The objective of the bill, he said, was to achieve “more democracy” at Greek universities.

The proposed measures are designed to strengthen the role of students in the management of universities while making it more difficult for police to enter university grounds, essentially reinstating an asylum law that was scrapped by the previous conservative administration. Another provision foresees 40 percent of students enrolled in postgraduate programs being exempt from having to pay university and college fees.

In his speech, Tsipras described changes to postgraduate programs as an attempt to take on “vested interests,” while denouncing university evaluation as “academic darwinism.”

Meanwhile, speaking on plans to restore the university asylum law, which prevents police from entering campuses in most cases, Tsipras called for a “robust student movement” that will keep lawless behavior at bay. He said the current status had made universities prey to “small groups of provocateurs.” Sticking to a familiar mantra, the leader of the opposition deconstructed the bill portraying it as part of a wider government campaign to make a norm of the lowest common denominator.

He vowed to scrap the law if New Democracy wins the next elections. “[This bill] will soon become a thing of the past, which is after all where its provisions are coming from,” Mitsotakis said, adding that the bill aims to hold education ransom to partisan politics.

Giving a brief overview of ND’s own blueprint for the country’s tertiary education sector, Mitsotakis put emphasis on linking universities with the private economy, academic self-rule, performance evaluation, zero-tolerance of violence and giving private universities the green light.

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