OPINION

Second opinion on Balkan degrees

In Greece they would not even get the lowest score at the university entry exams. Yet, after spending a few years studying abroad, they return to their country furnished with degrees from medical, dental and pharmaceutical schools. They are Greek college graduates who, upon graduation from universities in Balkan and Eastern European countries, attempt to get their degrees recognized in Greece. In most cases, though, Greek university professors who conduct the foreign degree recognition exams are staggered by the poor performance of the applicants. According to the Inter-university Center for the Recognition of Foreign Academic Titles (DIKATSA), indicative of the poor academic knowledge of these applicants is the fact that 60 percent of them graduated from high school with a final grade not higher than 13 on a scale of 1-20. At the same time, at the foreign degree recognition exams which are administered by DIKATSA the pass rate ranges from 18 to 25 percent. Specifically, in the last exams for medical degrees which were held between June 30 and July 1 this year, in the surgery course only 20 percent of the applicants scored passing grades, and only 12 percent in pathology. This is in spite of the fact that the pass mark in the previous two exams had been lowered to 4.5 from a previous five (out of 10), in an effort by the state agency to decongest the application system. According to DIKATSA Director Ioulia Efstathiou, as many as 1,500 applications for recognition of medical, dentistry and pharmaceutical degrees are made annually to the center. But the current revelations raise serious questions of possibly criminal delays on the part of the State during the previous years. Dubious institutes Were the relevant agencies unaware of the situation in institutes abroad? Why is it only now that they deem their re-evaluation necessary, given the importance of those fields to public health? Former Health Minister Dimitris Kremastinos expressed, in an interview with Kathimerini a few months ago, his doubts about the quality of degrees from universities in Eastern Europe. But the Education Ministry must have known of the complaints about the improper methods used to acquire the degrees. Why should it have taken 10 years to impose stricter controls? The issue came to light only after DIKATSA officials accidentally discovered the shoddy academic standards of university schools on a tour of the English-speaking departments that operate as branches of western universities in the form of franchising in Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Instances of the woeful state of affairs prevailing in universities in the Balkan and Eastern European countries are numerous. According to information that has come to the attention of DIKATSA, foreign universities operate a privileged regime for Greek students, who have proven to be their best customers. They organize special classes for foreign students in which the overwhelming majority of the students are Greeks. Moreover, in recent years all restrictions that these institutions used to impose on admission of foreign students have been lifted. Typically, universities in Bulgaria and Bosnia, which up until 1991 required that an applicant had received his high-school degree with a minimum grade of 17, have now abolished such admission requirements. Fresh evaluation The situation has alarmed DIKATSA, and its board of directors decided to evaluate anew the level of studies at the medical, dental and pharmaceutical schools of all universities outside the European Union, in a drive to redetermine the equivalence of these schools with those at Greek universities. Efstathiou declared that within this framework the agency will request from all these universities the qualifications of the professor teaching there, copies of their publications, the student/teacher ratio, the number of labs operated by the schools and their hours of operation. According to sources, after the fresh evaluation has been completed, the Education Ministry is considering imposing stricter terms on the recognition of foreign degrees issued by certain universities, or even not recognizing them at all. Medical association wants tougher examinations The Medical Association of Athens (ISA) in a recent announcement has called for tougher examinations for the recognition of academic degrees obtained abroad. Specifically, the association’s president, Constantinos Economou, told Kathimerini that candidates must be examined in all courses of the senior year of Greek universities, and not just in two (courses) which is the case today. In addition, holders of foreign university degrees should not have the right to retake exams until they pass, but be limited to four attempts.