The decision to raise admission standards at the country’s universities and to close departments that are not in high demand was the right way to go. It will certainly cause a lot of turbulence over the next couple of months, but there is no such thing as reform without opposition, unfortunately.
That said, for this specific reform to be both practical and fair, the government needs to show that it also cares about the fate of some 17,000 youngsters who will not make the cut this year – as well, of course, as for the 15,000 who would have passed either way.
In Greek politics, showing that you care usually means granting favors and doing nothing that will annoy people more. The times have changed, though, and caring must mean taking the time – spending the past year at least – to upgrade public vocational training colleges (IEKs). It means identifying the areas of expertise for which there is demand, training educators, building workshops and improving infrastructure. It means reaching out to other European states with experience in vocational training and appointing a high-ranking official to streamline the bureaucratic impediments to such a project and working with whichever agency is assigned the task.
The fact is that the system of public professional education is deeply problematic. An effort was made to improve its programs last September but little has changed in practice.
Now try to step into the shoes of all the youngster that won’t get into university this year: They will see it as a defeat, a rejection. For decades, we have cultivated a culture that rewards degrees, no matter how useless some of them may be or how vain their promise of professional success.
The shock can be lessened if the youngsters who don’t make it and who are ready to learn a trade that will get them a place in the job market fast know that this is a path they can realistically pursue. If they walk into a crumbling building that lacks the right facilities and the properly trained staff, their disappointment will only grow further. And they will feel that no one cares about them – quite justly.
We owe it to all these youngsters to show them there are solutions.
The press is always writing stories about the shortages experienced by businesses in staff for specific areas of specialization. A rational and modern vocational training system would rise to this challenge. It is not only the practical thing to do, but also the just one. And history has taught us that over time, reforms are embraced by society when they contain both these elements.