The Athena plan for the overhaul of Greece’s tertiary education system raises a lot of questions and has been cause for some disappointment. The plan to streamline technical colleges and universities by merging departments and saving funds has the lofty goal of correcting mistakes from the past that have dogged the system. It also aims to adapt education to current needs.
At least this is the objective.
Instead, however, what we are seeing as the plan is gradually unveiled is that it has been drawn up in a very slipshod manner. It shows an utter lack of understanding of the current state of the country, little understanding of the limits of the public’s tolerance and absolutely no long-term strategic aims.
Almost a month after it was announced, the Athena plan, which had already been exposed as being full of shortcomings and mistakes, has been further tweaked to become almost unrecognizable from the original and, unfortunately, not for the better.
As has been the case over the last 20 years, with some 200 universities, technical colleges and departments appearing in different parts of the country for no rational reason, so today we are seeing the same political system slashing 100 departments just as haphazardly. Under pressure from the country’s international creditors for more austerity cuts, the plan ignored the needs of students and their families, and fails completely to come up with ways of improving the quality of education in the long term. Just as they once allowed the education system to grow out of control, regardless of the cost, so today they are hacking away at it without thinking about the future.
For example, the plan foresees the merger of foreign language and literature departments that have a long and respectable history as though they were mere language schools and not university departments dedicated to the study of foreign cultures. It merges the only department in Greece that teaches speech therapy with a physiotherapy department, while abolishing the only place offering studies in folk and traditional music, at the Technical College of Arta, which has produced numerous great musicians and teachers and made a significant contribution to keeping tradition alive. There are many more examples of such mistakes, some of which completely erase entire areas of study.
What the government needs to do is slow down and allow more time for a better plan to be implemented, perhaps in two stages. It doesn’t have to change the entire registration system this year. It can give thousands of students who will be affected by the changes a bit more time to plan for the costly business of moving town or city. It needs to more time.