We recently read that Greek universities are planning to introduce more than 200 English-language undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate programs, seeking funding from the EU-backed National Strategic Reference Framework, known in Greece as ESPA.
The – albeit overdue – interest the country is showing in forging essential partnerships with foreign, internationally recognized universities can provide opportunities to improve how Greek universities operate. It would be even better if the funding for these programs did not rely, yet again, on the EU and the state. As is the case at most American universities, a part of the (decent) salary earned by the professors of these English-language programs could come from successful participations in competitive research programs. The institution of named chairs and even alumni associations are other potential sources of funding that foreign universities use extensively so as to reduce their financial dependence on whichever government is in power, a situation that often leads to interventions.
We are looking at an opportunity for the various forms of pressure exerted on universities by outside forces in favor of particular candidates to finally be regarded as odd, repulsive and negative – as they are abroad. And for electoral bodies to cease granting preferential treatment to various people’s protegees or relatives.
Another important opportunity that arises from such partnerships is the promotion of a stricter academic code on matters of integrity, as is the case at internationally recognized universities, where plagiarism is regarded as a cardinal sin that gets a student temporarily or permanently expelled. The reaction is equally severe on issues pertaining to publications by students and professors. Publications that are found to be a fabrication or falsifications, and professors putting their names to papers they never did any work for are but some of the very serious matters of academic integrity at Greek universities that need to be discussed.
Even less important matters like retirements could be dealt with differently if we learned and took advantage of the procedures that apply at good foreign universities. At Berkeley, for example, professors are subjected to an academic review every three years. If they do not show significant progress – in terms of their research, say – they are encouraged to take early retirement. At Harvard, in contrast, a good professor has no retirement limit and keep teaching for as long as he or she wants. It is worth recalling that Berkeley is a “state” university and Harvard a private, not-for-profit one, and that both are regarded as among the best in the world.
The truth is that those of us who for years have been championing the creation of serious, non-profit, English-language university schools (like a school of medicine in English, for example) are somewhat skeptical of this sudden shift toward the creation of 200 English-language programs, particularly as they seem to rely entirely on the universities’ existing academic staff who are already struggling to keep their undergraduate and graduate programs running at a decent level.
It is my belief that the new English-language programs need to be designed and run by an independent faculty of experienced academics that will chiefly comprise Greeks of the diaspora. Many of them hold top positions at some of the world’s best universities and have their hearts in Greece. An invitation to them by the state for these English-language programs at Greek universities would be an opportunity to reverse the brain drain and improve the standard of Greek tertiary education.
Dimitris Linos is a professor of surgery and a deacon of the Greek Orthodox Church.