Saga of foreign degrees

More incidents are to be expected in the war that has broken out between private Liberal Studies College (EES) owners and the Education Ministry over the non-recognition of qualifications from universities abroad. Maintaining its unyielding stance, the Education Ministry has refused to comply with European Commission rules on direct professional recognition for degree-holders, said to number 10,000, from such institutes. The EESs are taking steps to either force the ministry to back down or risk another clash with the Commission. The owners of the EESs are advising holders of degrees from foreign universities which have joint academic programs with Greek private colleges to acquire permits to practice their profession in the countries where they graduated, said the president of the Association of Liberal Studies Colleges, Constantinos Karkanias. On their return to Greece, graduates of schools abroad apply to the Education Ministry’s Department for the Recognition of Professional Qualifications, from which they seek professional recognition based on the rights of establishment and freedom of movement in the European Union. The department was set up by presidential decree on June 23, 2000 to incorporate into Greek law European directive 89/48 for the recognition of diplomas from foreign higher education institutes. The decision As outlined in the directive, the department is obliged to grant recognition. A negative decision would mean giving the EES owners an opportunity to start a new round of judicial action, which would embroil the European Commission. Greece has already been condemned once in the European Court of Justice, and is obliged to listen to a stream of complaints from the competent commissioner that the presidential decree 165 of June 23, 2000 does not fully incorporate European directive 89/48. Until now, the department has examined degree-holders’ applications by carrying out a comparison of the curriculum completed. «Those studies which are not taught at a higher education institute are not recognized. A graduate who began his studies at a Greek EES is regarded as having two non-existent years of study, as far as the committee which examines the applications is concerned,» the director of the department, Despoina Andritsou, told Kathimerini. Recognition was not automatic, she added. Recognition Thus, even if just a permit to practice a profession is being sought, and not the full recognition of academic qualifications, which falls under the competence of the Inter-university Center for the Recognition of Foreign Academic Titles (DIKATSA), the program of studies is examined – though the European Commission has repeatedly said that the Department for the Recognition of Professional Qualifications may not evaluate the applicant’s level of education. According to statistics from the department, from June 28, 2000 to October 24, 2001,there were 161 requests for recognition of professional qualifications. The applications are examined by a committee of eight, which includes a representative of the professional field in which the applicant wishes to practice. Professional associations play an important role. As a condition for professional recognition, they demand recognition of academic qualifications, thus forcing degree-holders to undergo another set of exams which resemble those of DIKATSA. What is more, according to the Commission, 37 people have charged that though their qualifications were recognized, they were unable to practice their profession. Most of the accusations have been leveled at the Technical Chamber of Greece. Clearly, the hurdles in the way of recognition of professional qualifications for graduates educated abroad serves efforts by professional associations to curb the growth of an already large labor market in certain fields. A typical example is that of the Athens Bar Association, which undertakes the examinations of such applications for recognition on its own. There are 17,600 lawyers in Athens, and 31,000 in the country as a whole, said Antonis Roupakiotis, bar chairman. «I’m not in favor of closed professions, nor of an unbridled free market,» he added.

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