University reform law looks to the future

A new law overhauling tertiary education in Greece has been put into effect following a rare moment of consensus between the government and three main opposition parties, prompting Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou to say that ?the most important point achieved with the consensus was that the law will not be overturned for at least the next 20 years.?

This overwhelming show of support from Parliament of the law has also somewhat blunted the expected reactions from most academics, except those at institutions like the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki who argue that the new administrative framework for universities is in violation of their right to self-administration and is therefore unconstitutional, and who are threatening to take their case to court.

Student unions affiliated with political parties have already reacted to the law, which significantly decreases their sway within universities, and are expected to escalate their action with extended sit-in protests over the next few weeks. In fact, PASP, the student group affiliated with ruling PASOK, has sided with the groups of the left in order to overturn the law in its entirety.

The success of the consensus lies in the adjustments made to the draft law just days before it was presented to Parliament, such as the clause stipulating that rectors will be elected by academics without the participation of students.

?The passing of the reform law through Parliament with such a broad majority sets new terms in regard to the law?s application,? the dean of the University of the Peloponnese and a member of the coordination board, Theodoros Papatheodorou, told Kathimerini.

?The positive aspects of the law enhance the role of departments, reorganize postgraduate programs and allow universities to operate as an organization. On the questions of fields of study, academic organization, research and asylum, the law is lacking and contradictory, while there is also no shortage of clauses that are unconstitutional and which will create malfunctions.?

However, adds Papatheodorou, ?there is no doubt that the election of rectors by the academic community will change the status quo and may act as a catalyst in terms of the law?s application to suit the true needs of every respective institution.?

For their part, the secretary of the union representing academics, Eugenia Bournova, told Kathimerini that ?the changes made to the law in order to secure consensus do not change the overall philosophy of the law, with which we disagree strongly. We insist on and we will fight for the initial proposals we put forth, such as continuing to operate departments as independent bodies and the election of rectors by everyone.?

Student unions have taken an even more polemic stance, calling the law undemocratic and vowing to ?do everything to have it overturned,? in the words of PASP secretary Michalis Nikiforos. A representative for ONNED, the New Democracy-affiliated union, Andreas Papamimikos, called the law ?cowardly.?

The rival parties also agree on the fact that they disagree with a clause banning student participation, via union representatives, in the administrative decision-making process of tertiary education institutes.

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