Education reform

Busy professors who divide their time between their university obligations in the provinces and their private, unrelated activities in Athens; exotic new departments which obey no logic of scientific priorities or labor market needs but rather the availability of professors; overpriced textbooks of controversial educational value; elections of university bodies that resemble party-political confrontations and which take place in a state of administrative anarchy – a recent study, coupled with the everyday experience of those who make up Greece’s university community, paints this grim picture of the country’s university education. If we want to delve deeper into the issue of education reform, we need to go back to the famous law on universities, law 1268/82. That was a radical reformist attempt made by the then-young government of the late Socialist Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou. It aspired to meet two fundamental demands that were also echoed in the slogans of the great student rallies at the time, which had created turmoil during the rule of former conservative Prime Minister Giorgios Rallis. The two demands were the transcendence of «class barriers in education» and the abolition of the non-elective university hierarchy, an institution which appeared an anachronism, almost a feudal relic in a bastion of academic freedom. Unfortunately, the correct diagnosis was not followed by effective remedies. The increase in the number of higher education institutes and students inevitably led to the devaluation of studies and the worth of university degrees. Besides, the abolition of non-elective positions was not accompanied by the abolition of the professorial establishment but rather caused its expansion as old aides and supervisors were granted posts, often without basis in meritocratic criteria. The result was that the power concentrated in individuals under the old system was replaced by an oligopoly of professors who were capable of distributing courses and research funds according to factional criteria. The decision by Education Minister Petros Efthymiou to change the process by which rectors are elected constitutes a step in the right direction. Such changes, however, are not a panacea. What we need is a new, comprehensive reform of university education which will safeguard the democratic achievements of the 1982 reform, but which will also insert the missing elements: meritocracy, social control and academic responsibility. But any dialogue – whenever it takes place – has to be in line with institutions and traditional procedures, meaning that any talks on a political level have to be preceded by thorough negotiations between Foreign Ministry officials.

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