College penalty avoided, for now

Greece has escaped, for the time being, the imposition of a 15,000-euro-a-day fine from the European Commission for failing to fully recognize the degrees of students who have graduated from private colleges that operate as franchises of universities abroad, sources said yesterday. Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou, who served as a European commissioner between 1999 and 2004, is said to have convinced Brussels not to impose the fine, pending action on the issue from the new PASOK government. Despite repeated court rulings and mounting pressure from the Commission, Greece has failed to change its laws to recognize the degrees awarded by private colleges or to grant the institutions proper operating licenses. Since 1990, when franchises of foreign universities began operating in Greece, an estimated 25,000 students have graduated and it is thought that another 25,000 are currently studying for their degrees at private colleges now. Diamantopoulou has said that she will examine Greece’s legislation in a bid to make it more compatible with the Commission’s demand. Legal sources said yesterday that there is no way that Greece can avoid recognizing private degrees. One option being examined by the government is reserving the right for Greek authorities to assess the services offered by franchises based here. For a franchise of a British university, for example, to open in Greece, it has to be certified by British authorities. But the government believes that certifying them in Greece as well might be a way of counteracting opposition to the colleges from the state education sector.