OPINION

Backward steps

Private schools may be schools but that does not change the fact that they are private enterprises, recognized by the law which specifically accepts that education (except for university education) may be provided by private individuals in order to make a profit. And the reasons for this are the same as the reasons for having a free-market system in this country. This is because events have demonstrated that businesses may put pressure on their staff, they may seek to expand management’s rights and may be largely driven by profit, but the combination of these factors leads them to provide better services than the stagnant public sector. The fact that a growing number of citizens shoulder the burden of high fees when they could just send their children to state schools proves that they clearly deem that higher-quality education in private institutions is worth the financial burden. One can then work out that if the social importance of education mandates some degree of public control over private schools, it still should not strip them of their private character, a fundamental feature of which is the freedom to hire and dismiss academic staff. Furthermore, it would be no exaggeration to say that schools in particular should have more freedom in this area that other private companies. This is because the academic staff constitutes the school’s main resource, what determines the institution’s reputation and market appeal. Restricting employers’ freedom would limit their ability to ensure the competitiveness of their enterprises. Should they be left free, they would shoulder the burden of potential mismanagement, and be punished by the market. PASOK governments, unfortunately, seem to have forgotten this fundamental principle and their own declarations over the negative repercussions of lifetime employment status in the public sector. Back in 1999, there was a proposal that private teachers be hired from the Public Sector Hiring Council (ASEP) competition. That danger was fortunately averted but the government has waded back into the fray, this time wishing to impose, not its own mode of recruitment, but rather drastic restrictions on layoffs. It is thereby undermining employers’ freedom, a freedom that is responsible for the high productivity and competitiveness of private schools, while also displaying lack of governmental confidence in the workings of the free market. Education Minister Petros Efthymiou’s amendment may seem socially sensitive but, in fact, it is clumsy and dangerous. And if the minister fails to grasp this, it is to be hoped that at least the prime minister will.