Tertiary education reform is a «main priority» for the government, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis insisted yesterday as Education Ministry figures seen by Kathimerini suggested that there is an alarmingly low number of graduates from some technical colleges (TEIs). Speaking at a meeting of New Democracy’s youth wing on the Ionian island of Lefkada, Karamanlis said that the ruling conservatives would continue to discuss their proposed reforms but did not want the debate to be dominated by «conservative attitudes» and «dogmatism.» Efforts by the government to introduce changes at universities have so far met with strong opposition from some students and academics, forcing Karamanlis and his cabinet to rethink the matter. The premier said it was a «given» that reforms were needed. «No education system can remain distanced from what is going on in the European and international field and remain at a standstill when it is producing unemployed graduates,» Karamanlis said. Figures supplied by technical colleges around Greece to the Education Ministry suggest that some drastic changes are needed to ensure the future of some institutions, particularly those outside major urban areas. Kathimerini has learned, for instance, that two students out of 464 graduated from a department of the TEI in Epirus in northwestern Greece last year while three departments at other technical colleges had just 5-17 graduates. TEI directors have asked for the number of places being offered to students at their colleges to be reduced in an effort to improve standards. However, there is pressure on the government from local politicians to keep student numbers high at regional TEIs as the students are an important source of income for the local economy. This year, the technical colleges asked that no more than 30,540 places be offered to new students but the government set the figure at 42,270. More than 8,000 of these extra places are at regional TEIs.