Softer stance on education

After spending the last few weeks under fire from many students and academics, the education minister yesterday tried to heal the rift between the government and the tertiary education sector by saying she was open to talks and that funding for state universities is not in danger. Marietta Giannakou insisted that the final decision on the reforms to higher education would rest with the government but said that her door was open to students and academics wishing to debate the changes. «The dialogue will last for as long as is necessary for those who really want to have a dialogue,» she said. The minister was the subject of heavy criticism from some quarters for declaring the period of negotiation with students and academics over and appearing to want to rush her reform bill through Parliament. After two well-attended student rallies in central Athens and plenty of bad publicity, the ruling conservatives said last week that they would delay submitting the tertiary education reform bill to Parliament to allow more time for consultation with students and lecturers. One of the main concerns voiced by those objecting to the reforms, which could usher in private universities, has been that the funding of state universities could suffer. As part of her more conciliatory approach, Giannakou insisted that there was nothing to fear. «We know full well that the institutional changes will be accompanied by an increase in funding,» said Giannakou. «That is a given.» I know better than anyone else that more money has to be spent on education,» she added. Giannakou has to wait to see if her new approach will reap dividends. The initial signs are promising as the Hellenic Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (POSDEP), which is due to meet on Saturday, said it is willing to discuss the reforms. POSDEP, however, has indicated that it will be demanding a 20 percent increase in funding for universities and technical colleges and for spending on education to reach 5 percent of gross domestic product.

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