Students take college protest into the streets

Thousands of university students took to the streets of Athens and other Greek cities yesterday to protest the government’s plans to grant full recognition to degrees obtained from private colleges, as European Union legislation dictates. University professors and teachers joined two Athens rallies which drew about 4,000 protesters in total. Overall, the protest in the capital was peaceful except for two incidents: a handful of protesters entering a store and throwing goods out into the street and another group that pelted a bank branch with stones. No injuries were reported. Meanwhile, professors at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), one of the most actively opposed to the reforms, went on strike to express their opposition to the proposed reforms. Another of the NTUA’s grievances is failure by authorities to recognize their institution’s five-year courses as master’s-level degrees. Despite the palpable discontent among university students and professors yesterday, government officials stressed that their hands were tied by EU law and that the reforms would have to pass. «In the summer, we tried to pass reforms to regulate the post-secondary school private education sector but this was not feasible due to what must apply in the EU,» Deputy Education Minister Andreas Lykourentzos said. «In view of this, we will continue to see disputes and appeals, and the adoption of EU law will remain up in the air,» he added. Lykourentzos’s comments created some confusion yesterday as a statement by his fellow deputy minister, Spyros Taliadouros, appeared to suggest that the state would retain control of the private college sector. «We dared to bring to Parliament a bill which foresees the state granting licenses to (private) colleges that would operate subject to certain prerequisites,» Taliadouros said. Opposition PASOK Deputy Anna Diamantopoulou, who oversees health issues, remarked that every country has the right to monitor its education sector. Another issue expected to cause a headache for authorities is that of private colleges that are not affiliated with European universities but are also not state-backed vocational schools.