Opinion remains sharply divided among Greece’s top academics and business leaders over whether the government’s plans to allow private universities will help the education system, as was evident at a high-level conference in Athens yesterday. Some 100 students protested outside the Goethe Institute, where a conference on the role of universities in the 21st century was being held. They were demanding that universities remain in public hands. Figures made public on Wednesday revealed that some 60,000 Greeks are currently studying at universities abroad. Many argue that the establishment of reputable private universities in Greece would stem this flow. However, the former dean of Athens University and former justice minister for PASOK, Michalis Stathopoulos, told Kathimerini that there was nothing wrong with Greek students studying abroad as it raised their level of education. He also cast doubt on the use of private tertiary education institutions. «It is contrary to put a grade limit for those entering university, and on the other hand to give all those who do not make it in to public universities the chance to study at private ones,» Stathopoulos said. However, others argue that the large number of migrating students results in a loss of specialized knowledge vital for the economy as many graduates choose to work and remain in the country where they studied. Nikolaos Ebeoglou, board member of ALBA, one of the Greece’s leading non-state business schools, said that private education will help in passing on broader knowledge in comparison with state institutions that offer more scientific knowledge. The evaluation of non-state institutions comes directly from the students themselves, Ebeoglou added. In order for Greece to recognize the professional rights of students graduating from private universities, the government needs to amend the constitution. Deputy Minister Spyros Taliadouros recently said that the legal framework allowing for this is likely to be ready in 2009.