OPINION

Evasive reforms

It is generally accepted that universities in Greece are not fulfilling their missions. And the exceptions merely highlight the inadequacies of the majority of institutions. This matter is crucial as the quality of education determines to a great extent not only the level of a country’s cultural development but also its abilities in the economic sector. In view of this, reforms are more imperative than ever. And how is the government responding to the problem in our higher education sector? Initially, Education Minister Marietta Giannakou submitted a few timid proposals which hardly addressed the crux of the problem. And when students began sit-ins at universities to protest the proposed changes, any progress ground to a halt. Shortly afterward, the government’s focus zoomed in on the revision of Article 16 of the Constitution to permit the establishment of «non-state universities.» Although neither side has directly admitted it, both ruling New Democracy and PASOK chief George Papandreou regard this proposed revision as the solution to the problem. The theory is that the creation of non-state universities will encourage competition which, in turn, will inspire state universities to improve their standards. But, in reality, this revision is an evasion of the real problem. I would strongly support such a move if it would lead to the creation of private universities that would resemble – at least in their approach – the renowned non-profit US institutions. We all have the right to hope, but there is no viable basis for hope here. Further, experience has shown that even if strict «security valves» are put in place, they do not apply in practice. The example of «non-state» television is a case in point. In all likelihood, the main outcome of the planned revision will be that private tertiary colleges gain university status. And this will constitute a boost to the «easy degree» industry. In itself, the revision of Article 16 is of secondary importance. Our real goal should be the radical reform of state universities. If this happens, then those wanting to enter the sector to found private universities will have a yardstick to work by. Upgrading state universities is the realistic solution – as long as the political will for such a move exists. The majority of the public has long abandoned its prejudices and is ready for radical changes. It is time for the launch of a wide-ranging dialogue aimed at drafting a national plan for higher education that will upgrade the teaching process and establish a reliable mechanism for evaluating teachers and students alike. If it is clarified in advance that such a plan would be submitted for referendum then all sides will be ready for a serious discussion.