‘There are teachers who want to know what party you belong to’

Sophie Besler from France has been in Greece since October with the Erasmus program. She chose Greece because she had often come here on vacation and she liked it. She used studies as a bridge to living here permanently. She says she attends lectures at the Philosophy Department at Athens University but then backtracks. «To be more precise, I have attended very few lectures, due to the upheaval in education. The problem is that I cannot choose subjects for the second semester when I’m under pressure from the university in France to complete my coursework. In general, I often spend a lot of time just trying to find what I’m looking for,» she said. «On the other hand, I understand why the students who don’t want private universities are protesting. «In France, even at state universities, which are serious and organized, we pay for our books. Most of the teachers at Athens University are very good. But what made a poor impression on me at Greek university is the politicization. There are teachers who want to know what party you belong to. In France, politics is forbidden at the university.» Monika Nikula from Finland arrived in Greece amid the uproar over the education system. She is also with the Erasmus program. «The demonstrations here have made a big impression on me because we never had mass rallies over education in Finland. Of course, we only have state universities and we have never paid for education. I am against the privatization of universities because I think it limits access to quality education,» she said. After a month in Greece, Nikula, who is enrolled in the Communications and Media Department of Athens University, says she hasn’t come to a complete conclusion about university education here. «In general, things seem mediocre, I often don’t get the information I need from the school itself and so I have to seek it myself. Sometimes the lesson schedule changes without them telling us.» The lack of organization at Greek universities is what most struck Mesam Sarafi from Iran, who is at Patras University studying with an international postgraduate program on seismology. He got his first degree from a university in the USA. «As you know, the American system is based on organization. I was surprised when I saw that all those principles are not implemented here. There’s no planning; everything is up in the air. You can expect surprises at any moment,» he told Kathimerini with a laugh. Yet his overall impression of Greek university is positive. «The teachers are exceptional, the laboratories are fully equipped and above all the people are hospitable and friendly; I’ve made a lot of friends in four months.» Adriana from the Netherlands has been studying journalism at Panteion University for the past seven years. «I really love my college but the truth is that this business with the sit-ins and the missed lessons and exams causes me problems. Apart from that, I find it strange that the teachers are sometimes late and sometimes don’t turn up at all for class without letting us know in advance. I think that Greek universities lack organization in general. For example, I suffered when a mistake made by the faculty secretariat made me miss the deadline for some subjects.» Sohel Haneif from Pakistan is fairly happy with the progress of his doctorate. Not much bothers him because, as he says, «if one compares the educational sectors in Greece and Pakistan, things are better here.» He attends a doctoral program at Athens University on a Greek state scholarship for foreigners. Practical problems «From my experience, I think Greek universities are very good and competitive, I study and do research without any particular problems. The teachers are very good and give help when it is needed. I am satisfied with the level of knowledge and the books. The only difficulties I face are practical ones, related to equipment. We can’t always find computers when we need them and there are not enough staff to maintain them. All education systems have some problems. What is happening in Greece now happens in other countries too, of course,» Haneif said. Anne-Katrin Kertscher, 24, from Germany, is another Erasmus student at the Athens University of Economics and Business. She has felt lost among the demonstrations in recent months. «I don’t like the strikes; the university is often closed, and on other days it is almost empty,» she said. «The level of studies is OK and I like the fact that students here get their books free and eat for free in the canteen. That doesn’t happen in Germany; we pay for everything. On the other hand, it’s better organized in my country and cleaner.» Does she know why the Greek students are demonstrating? «About politics, I suppose. I don’t know exactly. We aren’t so involved in what happens in politics.» Marinella from Albania came to Greece 15 years ago. Now 19, she is in the second year of computer studies at the Athens University of Economics and Business. «It is a difficult course, with tough requirements,» she told Kathimerini. «The recent developments have made me despair. We haven’t had lessons for a month. A semester is a very short time. What can we manage to learn? I hope they decide once and for all what will happen because everything is up in the air. Don’t misunderstand me, I support the sit-ins but, yes, I am also fed up with them.»