The recent visit to Greece by Charles, Prince of Wales, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, was a significant moment in the long and turbulent relations between Greece and the UK, as very few high-ranking British officials have visited our country in recent decades. So the visit by the heir to the throne of the United Kingdom was of great historical and symbolic importance. The essence of the visit, however, was evident at one of the events that the prince visited, the British Council’s “Higher Education Forum on Transnational Education: The future of UK higher education in Greece after Brexit – Challenges, opportunity and prospects.” Of all European Union countries, Greece hosts the largest number of colleges that are in partnerships with British higher education institutes. As the participants at the forum noted, there is room for greater growth.
The Brexit vote and the probability that their country could soon find itself outside the EU context has pushed Britain’s educational community to seek closer bilateral ties and ways to further cooperation. “We knew immediately that our network of relationships in Europe was at risk and we thought of how best to mitigate” the effect of Brexit, said Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, the body that helps British universities and higher education institutions engage with international partners and represents their interests. “If there is an upside to the referendum, it is that, before, we underappreciated and underinvested in bilateral relations with core partners in Europe.”
In a message read at the forum’s opening, Ambassador Kate Smith noted that 11,000 Greeks are studying in Britain today and that there are about 300,000 alumni of British universities in Greece. She was accompanying Prince Charles, who attended a reception at the forum’s close. Dr Vangelis Tsiligiris, principal lecturer at Nottingham Business School of Nottingham Trent University, said that the number of Greek students in Britain had fallen from 30,000 in the past, while students at colleges in Greece which are allied with British institutions had reached 17,000. Research announced by Dr Tsiligiris (with data up to 2015), noted that Britain has been the steady favorite destination of Greek students but that later data might show Cyprus taking the lead. (This raises a serious issue that must be discussed in Greece.)
Clearly there is great demand for quality education within Greece and there are 35 transnational education (TNE) institutions here. Much of the discussion at the forum focused on quality assessment of the education provided and degree recognition. Yannis Ververidis, principal of the University of Sheffield International Faculty, City College, and secretary of the Hellenic Colleges Association, said he believed Greece could attract 25,000-30,000 foreign students to colleges here. Also, a more positive stance from the Education Ministry, improved legislation, the adoption of high quality standards and more widespread recognition of degrees could help reduce the outflow of students and the brain drain, he argued.
Professor Konstantinos Buraselis, vice rector of academic affairs and international relations at Athens University, presented the university’s foreign partnerships and programs that it offers in English. He noted that some 13,000 Greeks had studied in the United Kingdom in Europe’s Erasmus exchange program, while 5,000 British students had studied in Greece in the same framework. (“Why not more cooperation between UK universities and Greek public universities?” Stern commented at the forum’s closing.)
Niki Kerameus, member of Parliament for New Democracy and shadow minister for education, research and religious affairs, presented her party’s vision for Greece as an international education hub, calling for widespread use of foreign languages in programs.
The message of the forum was that as Greece and Britain move toward a new era in relations, both countries need to strengthen cooperation and that there are opportunities for this. Despite – or because of – Brexit there could be similar potential for mutual gains in the sciences and culture, in health, shipping, defense, banking, trade, real estate management, and many, many more sectors.