University rankings and reforms

University rankings and reforms

Eight Greek universities were included in the latest QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) global university rankings against the background of lively debates to review the Greek Constitution’s Article 16, which prohibits the establishment of private universities, thus reducing competitiveness in the higher education landscape, as well as violating democratic principles. It is important that we try to provide some comparative context for the interpretation of such rankings.

I was prompted to look at some other countries and Malaysia captured my attention as I recalled my engagement some 30 years ago in the development of a joint Australian degree with a private college in Subang Jaya in the Malaysian state of Selangor, in partnership with Victoria University (VU). I noted that eight Malaysian universities were well above the National Technical University of Athens, which was 347th in the list. The small private college now known as Sunway University was 586th back in 1993, behind three Greek universities and ahead of the other five Greek universities. The small college that was first called Sunway College was the brainchild of a Victoria University accounting graduate who turned a mine wasteland into Sunway City, with its own hospital, luxury hotel, university, smart energy management systems, and a public transport system. Today, the site is Malaysia’s first fully integrated green township, serving a community of more than 200,000 people.

There is an urgent need for the Greek higher education landscape to be significantly upgraded

But the focus here is the rise in the rankings of Sunway University alongside other Malaysian (public and private) universities over the last 30 years as a result of the creation of a competitive environment, which continues to elude Greece to this day. It is also a story of how universities can cultivate entrepreneurial alumni networks. Personally, my involvement was to lead the establishment of a degree in international trade at a time when Australian universities were developing a presence in the Asia Pacific region. My numerous visits to Sunway City over the years, as well as those of other VU colleagues, resulted in professional connections and friendships that played a pivotal role in the establishment of Sunway University.

Having served in tertiary education for decades in Australia as well as abroad, it is hard to see Greece debating the need for reforms in this area with the knowledge of the pros and cons of state and private universities. There is an urgent need for the Greek higher education landscape to be significantly upgraded; reforms promoted by the Ministry of Education are in the right direction, but more key structural changes are needed. This should include the reversal of the mergers of technological educational institutes (TEIs) and regional universities in a way consistent with the development of dual sector universities that offer vocational and academic programs with exit points for students (i.e. certificate, diploma, degree). The creation of only degree programs has served as a trap for the students and explains the high student withdrawal rates in Greece. Dual sector universities are very common and accreditation procedures in Greece need to be guided by international benchmarks of best practice.

Finally, Greek universities need to pursue a global strategy in the future in order to rise even higher in the international rankings. Their low rankings are also evident from the fact that in other university evaluations, hardly mentioned in the media, Greece has been included in a separate category of emerging economies whose universities are judged with similar performance indicators (The Times Higher Education Emerging Economies University Rankings 2022).

Dr Steve Bakalis is an expert on international business education and management. He has held adjunct appointments with the Australian National University, the University of Adelaide, and appointments at universities in the Asia Pacific and the Gulf Region.

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