The Education Ministry late on Wednesday issued the first batch of licenses approving the establishment of 33 private colleges in different parts of the country. The licenses, granted to institutions that had lodged applications with the ministry last December, are the first step toward the full operation of private colleges in Greece, a controversial move that has been opposed by many in the academic community and by professional organizations worried about the oversaturation of certain sectors. The institutions must now secure operating licenses following an inspection of their premises by ministry officials over the summer. The deadline for the completion of these inspections, chiefly aimed at determining whether the premises meet safety standards and contain the adequate facilities for an educational environment, has been set for August 31. However it is thought that this deadline will be extended as many officials of the designated inspection committee have started their vacations already. The third and final step in the process toward the full operation of colleges, due in the fall, is the issuing of a presidential decree recognizing the professional qualifications of prospective graduates of these colleges. The Hellenic Colleges Association (HCA), whose members cooperate with foreign universities in Greece, said it expects the ministry to move quickly in issuing the presidential decree that would bring Greece into line with European Union law governing the recognition of college graduates’ professional rights.