Protests await start of debate on education

President Karolos Papoulias appealed for consensus on education yesterday as lecturers, teachers and public servants prepared to stage the first in a series of strikes and protests today in opposition to the government’s planned reforms. Thousands of school and university students as well as educators are expected to take part in a demonstration in central Athens today. The protest is due to begin at noon outside the entrance to Athens University. It will be followed by a concert at 4 p.m. in Syntagma Square. This will be followed by a rally in front of Parliament at 6 p.m. The protest is being supported by the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE), Greece’s largest umbrella union, and the civil servant’s union ADEDY. Members of ADEDY will be staging a work stoppage starting at 11 a.m. and lasting until the end of their shift. It was not clear last night if the work stoppage would affect public transport. Demonstrations have also been planned in other major cities, such as Thessaloniki, Iraklion, Tripolis and Sparta. The protests are being timed to coincide with the beginning today of a debate in Parliament on whether to review Article 16 of the Constitution which currently decrees that only the state can be responsible for tertiary education. A change to the Constitution, which can only happen after the next general elections, would allow both private and non-profit universities to operate in Greece. Several teaching unions are against the proposal because they fear it will lead to a commercialization of higher education which could shut out students from less privileged backgrounds and reduce the quality of teaching. Representatives of one of these groups, the Hellenic Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (POSDEP), met yesterday with President Papoulias, who urged them to reach a consensus with the government. «You are a dynamic partner in the dialogue about education,» Papoulias told the POSDEP representatives. «Education is a national matter and I think it should be based on a broad consensus.» PASOK has said it will support the government’s effort to change the university law but Synaspismos Left Coalition and the Communist Party oppose the move. The councils of Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University and the National Technical University of Athens yesterday voted against changing Article 16 and will stay closed today in protest at the move. Aristotle University will also close its doors next Wednesday

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