NEWS

Greek private universities will be ready for business starting in 2009

Private universities will be able to open their doors for business in Greece as of 2009, Deputy Education Minister Spyros Taliadouros said in an interview with Kathimerini English Edition, as the country aims to make its mark on Europe’s education map. Greece announced recently that it will push ahead with a controversial change to its constitution allowing the country to recognize the professional rights of students graduating from private nonprofit universities. Currently, the law only recognizes state universities despite the existence of many private colleges that have been operating locally for a number of years. Taliadouros said that the required changes to the constitution will be completed in the fall of 2008. «From this point onward, a law will need to be voted in which will outline the procedure, the terms, the conditions and the criteria relating to the establishment of private non-profit universities. This I believe will take place in 2009,» the deputy education minister said. The news has been met with a wave of opposition by state universities and academics who argue that the reforms will do little to improve the quality of tertiary education and that local universities are already exposed to competition from their European peers. However, the government seems determined to proceed with its education reforms as a means of providing a boost to the economy and improving its eroding competitiveness. Experts estimate that the move will result in more funds for education, an inflow of technical know-how in different fields and the creation of jobs. The government is hoping that the entry of private universities will also help to stem the massive population of migrating students. On a relative basis, Greece exports the most students in the world, according to think tank OECD, with Malaysia coming in a distant second. Alpha Bank said in a recent report that more than 55,000 Greek students are currently studying abroad – in a country whose population is only 11 million people. A large number of these students remain in the country in which they studied in, starving Greece of much-needed qualified professionals. «Greece cannot essentially finance the scientific manpower of other countries and the creation of jobs abroad, abandoning its own capabilities,» the deputy minister added. One of the major issues surrounding the recognition of private universities in Greece is how the industry will be regulated. The country’s education landscape consists of about 44 private tertiary centers, the majority located in Athens, which collaborate with foreign universities and award students a bachelor’s degree upon the completion of the course, which usually run from three to four years. According to the ICAP research institute, about 18,000 students studied at these schools in the 2004-2005 academic year, at either an undergraduate or postgraduate level, spending about 110 million euros. It is a market that is expanding and drawing more interest from foreign providers of education looking at tapping the growth. The sector’s annual growth rate between 1999-2003 is estimated at about 7 percent. Greek governments, however, have been criticized for a number of years for their handling and control of the sector, which is not regulated by any education body. «(The reforms) will regulate the disorder in the current system of higher education created by the absolute ban from the constitution,» Taliadouros said. The legislative changes will outline student entry conditions, teaching standards, the method of operation and issues relating to the condition of teaching rooms and lecture halls. In a bid to tone down the voices of protest from opponents arguing that education will become a privilege for higher economic and social classes, scholarships will also be provided. «The equality of opportunities will need to be secured based on a system of scholarships for the economically weak who have a high academic performance and prefer to study at a non-government tertiary education institution,» he said. Reforms to the education system will help the sector tune in to the needs of the job market as the correlation between the two is currently very low. A survey conducted by the Institute for Management Development (IMD) gave Greece a below-average score among the EU’s 25 member states on the issue of whether the education system meets the needs of a competitive economy. However, the low score still managed to beat the UK and Italy. Apart from solving its own education woes, the reforms will also avoid the creation of new ones as the European Commission has instructed Greece that it cannot continue to avoid the recognition of foreign universities operating in the country through local branches. By flying its flag as a member of the EU, Greece hopes to improve the image of its universities, both private and public. Tertiary institutions have been shifting their focus to attracting students from the Balkans and Asian countries and now the government also appears to be adopting this policy. «The reforms will place the country as a center for education for the whole of Southeastern Europe and will open roads which offer opportunities to study to more young people,» the minister pointed out.