An encouraging sign for Greek universities

There was some good news for Greek universities this week as five institutions – the National Technical University of Athens, Athens University, the Athens University of Economics and Business, the University of Patra and Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University – were included in a list of 200 of the world’s top universities by the education firm QS (on its website www.topuniversities.com).

Of course how we view such lists and whether we accept that they provide useful insight into the quality of the education at the institutions they list is a separate matter.

However, if we accept that they do, then the inclusion of five Greek institutions among so many foreign schools with much larger budgets is an encouraging sign that allows us to conclude that the usual whinging and generalizations about the dire state of the country’s universities are not only unfair, but also wrong.

Of course we know from experience that many graduates of Greek universities go on to pursue successful postgraduate studies or careers abroad, even in countries that are especially competitive.

We also know from experience how intensely the country’s universities are derided and debased in public discourse. Generalizations, choosing to focus on the bad, on the worst things about the institutions, or in regard to events that relate to them, ignorance about the true situation or the provincialism shown by many when discussing the great matter of education, petty political interests and prejudices, do not consist of an informed opinion on where Greek universities are really lacking, nor do they consist of constructive criticism.

Moreover, the comparisons often made in regard to Greek universities are without any merit at all: For example, you will hear of a public institution that is underfunded and overburdened being compared to wealthy private institutions such as MIT or Harvard, which charge astronomical tuition fees and have a deep well of state and private funding to draw from to bankroll their research programs. Such comparisons are completely out of place and they are indicative of ignorance and an inferiority complex.

Sure there is a lot to mend and a lot to improve at Greece’s universities, but we are not starting with nothing, from scratch. The institutions of this country, however many there are and in whatever state they may be, need our love and attention, as well as our stern criticism. They also need the public to understand and appreciate their historical and social role. This is the only way to make them better and more efficient in the service of the common good.