State, tutors, students are all to blame for myriad problems

«They ask me what is to blame for the myriad problems at the universities. Everyone and everything: we, the lecturers, the students, the state,» Dean of Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University Ioannis Antonopoulos replied when asked about the state of Greek education. Acute, chronic problems mean that Greek universities – with few exceptions, those being chiefly schools – fall far short of being competitive. Absentee professors. What is most strongly felt at Greek universities is the absence of a university community, that academic hive of activity without which educational standards fall. «How can it be otherwise when lecturers only put in a few hours at the university?» asked Thanos Veremis, professor at the University of Athens’s Law School and president of the National Education Council (ESYP), which is organizing the national dialogue on education. «Lecturers should work full-time at the university, then each one will be free to carry on with his other professional obligations, as is the case with the rest of the world,» Antonopoulos added. «What does at least six hours of teaching a week mean?» he asked, raising the vital issue of quality in higher education. Lecturers’ absenteeism and their lack of contact with students strikes a blow at the very essence of education, all the more so when the selfsame professors have substitutes teaching their classes. Another running sore is the lecturers at regional universities who divide their time between Athens or Thessaloniki and the provinces. Too many students. But can an atmosphere of cooperation between lecturers and students flourish when there are too many of the latter for the institutes? Over the last few years, the ratio of the number of students that the institutes can take to that determined by the Education Ministry is a steady two to three. The result is crowded classrooms, especially at universities in central cities. «In some cases, we are forced to listen to the lecture while standing. Lecture halls with a capacity of 250 are packed with 600 students. And there are also days when we have to run from class to class all around Athens,» said law student Tsanakopoulos. Poor infrastructure. The lecture halls «in no way predispose the student to stay and work there,» said Veremis. The problem of building infrastructure is especially serious not only at central universities but in newly founded universities in the provinces. «Regional universities have extra problems. The lecture halls have not been prepared before the department is set up, while buildings are not up to standard, having been constructed for other uses,» Lois Lambrianidis, lecturer at the University of Macedonia, observed. Unprepared students. One of the important problems of Greek universities is the educational level of new student entrants, which is constantly dropping. «Of course, it’s right for as many people as possible to have access to higher education, provided that the necessary educational foundations have been laid, and not learning by rote,» said Veremis. Indicatively, in the most recent Panhellenic university entrance examinations (2004), one in four entrants (26.07 percent to be precise) received grades of 10 to 14. In addition, 41.81 percent did not even achieve a pass grade and thus enrolled at TEIs or foreign language courses. These grades reveal mediocre educational standards for university requirements. «There are departments that accept senior high school students who don’t know basic concepts,» said Veremis. As a result, some departments schedule lessons in those concepts for freshmen. An example is the History Department at the Ionian University, where the course was changed for first-year students and extra subjects added: Ancient, Medieval and Modern Greek, and Latin. Systemic deficiencies. At universities themselves, the organization of studies also results in distortions that lead to a drop in standards. For example, that a student can pass Physics III when he or she has yet to sit Physics II shows the lack of a proper system. Eternal students also have a negative effect. Four out of 10 students at Greek universities have spent over the normal length of time needed for completion of their studies. In total, according to the latest (2002) statistics from the Ministry of Education, of a total of 325,000 students, 152,000 (46 percent) had studied for more years than the actual course length. «This lax climate affects the way a university functions. There is no sense that it is a place of work,» observed Veremis. As president of ESYP, he would raise the issue during the national dialogue. Over-mighty factions. The role of student organizations is also a problem for institutes. While their participation in university bodies is judged as indispensable, it has proved negative in the case of various crucial issues, such as the elections for university deans. They play the role of kingmaker, electing and un-electing deans, straining lecturer-student relations and considerably denting the unimpeachability and reliability of any decisions. Non-existent research. Finally, universities are as deficient in research as in teaching. Chronic state underfunding is partly to blame here, together with the lack of a state policy in universities favoring basic research. At the same time, the brain drain from Greece to universities abroad is also a severe problem. Up to 50 percent of research PhD programs are not completed. «Funded research accounts for only a very small percentage of the university budget, and it varies from institute to institute,» said Lambrianidis. «We can say we have two-speed universities: the technical and science schools, who can draw on European funding through applied research, and theoretical schools, which have no such outlets,» he concluded.

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