OPINION

Private universities and PASOK

It was quite remarkable that opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou chose to give the government carte blanche to determine the legislative framework for the establishment and operation of private universities, that he surrendered his party’s right to be involved in this process. By giving his full approval to the proposal to revise Article 16 of the Constitution from the outset, Papandreou has helped ruling New Democracy to ensure that – after the elections – it will no longer need 180 votes to approve the relevant provisions; it will only need 151 votes. It is evident that the commitments of the PASOK chief in favor of private universities are much stronger than the temptation to have his party join the process of shaping the framework for new legislation, which it is obliged to do as the main political opposition. However, the analysis of Papandreou’s intentions – according to which the PASOK chief is sacrificing his party’s interests in order to appear consistent with the opinions he has expressed about education – is superficial. In reality, Papandreou believes that a large section of the population, chiefly comprising the higher and middle-ranking social classes but not exclusively restricted to these, is in favor of the creation of private universities, disgusted by the inadequacies of state education and indifferent to the fact that there are no equal opportunities in accessing university education. Of course, all this talk about a boost to the quality of studies following the introduction of private universities is hypocrisy. It is more likely that exactly the opposite will occur. The children of the well-to-do classes will no longer have any need to go through the difficult and strenuous process of preparing for and sitting university entrance examinations. Their parents will simply buy them access to private universities irrespective of the children’s academic record or performance at school. A horde of less affluent parents will also be pulled into this process when their children fail to get into the state university of their choice. In the hope of securing a better future for their offspring, these parents will make huge economic sacrifices in order to send them to private firms selling university degrees while masquerading as real universities. And few of us are convinced that the state will conduct regular inspections on private universities, as it has pledged to do. By maintaining his current stance, Papandreou is choosing a head-on collision with the entire spectrum of the education sector, on all levels, with teachers and students alike. And PASOK used to have a huge influence in this area. Exactly what gains and losses have been made will be clear after the elections.