Four in 10 students at Greek universities have overstayed the length of their degrees but the situation is better at technical colleges where class attendance is compulsory, according to figures released yesterday. In 2002, some 152,000 out of 325,000 university students (46 percent) had been at the institutions longer than the time needed to complete their degrees. At Greek universities, students are not forced to conclude their studies within a specific time frame, and can retake exams any number of times. Furthermore, in most departments there is no obligation to attend most – or any – of the lectures. In contrast, the picture at State Technical Colleges (TEIs), where class attendance is compulsory, is substantially different. Some 40,000 out of 173,000 TEI students (23 percent) were still at the colleges after they were supposed to have completed their studies. The new president of the National Education Council, Thanos Veremis, told Kathimerini that this problem was among the main topics that would be addressed through a nationwide dialogue of officials and organizations involved in education. He added that discussions were also needed as to how to reform the Greek higher education system along the lines of the 1999 Bologna Declaration, which Greece signed up to. Greece was one of 29 European states to sign the agreement, which aims to harmonize European higher education systems and proposes that all undergraduate degrees and doctorates should last three years while postgraduate courses should last two. The deadline for the declaration to be adopted is 2010. Veremis also suggested that the qualities of students arriving at university had to change, claiming that too many of them were used to learning things by rote rather than exercising their intellect. «Experience teaches us that people who have a spirit of originality are more successful. Anyone studying in university will need to have a creative element,» said Veremis. Meanwhile, universities and TEIs will be closed today as teaching unions have decided to go on a 24-hour strike over staff shortages and poor facilities as well as low and unpaid wages. Student organizations will also be staging a rally in central Athens at midday.