Planned education reforms a test for all

The government’s presentation of its proposed changes to the country’s higher education system, submitted to Parliament on Tuesday after much delay, constitutes a challenge and an opportunity for both main political parties. Both ruling New Democracy and main opposition PASOK essentially agree that in order to survive in a globalized economic environment, Greece has no other choice than to invest in human resources, research and new technologies. And this cannot happen without radical changes and the reform of the existing education system, which, virtually everyone agrees, does not live up to the demands of our age. The government’s proposal contains reforms which could lead us in the right direction – the most significant of these is the obligation of universities to submit a four-year plan detailing their funding, the recruitment of «managers» to handle the institutions’ finances and the introduction of reciprocal scholarship programs with other countries. In view of the fact that PASOK has pledged to make public its official stance on education very soon, the government should display the political readiness to incorporate any of the opposition’s suggestions that may improve on its original proposal. For his part, PASOK leader George Papandreou should offer proof to back up his assertion that upgrading education is the opposition party’s priority. During the debate of the new legislative framework for education reform, ND should avoid getting stuck on issues such as university asylum – the law that bars police from entering university grounds – which could provoke a head-on clash with the university community; Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis should avoid this eventuality, even if he believes that such a development would win him the understanding of the public and could even constitute a pretext for early elections. It would be equally illogical for Papandreou to get stuck in a pattern of systematically and comprehensively rejecting the government line on this issue. Overall, the choices that will be made by ruling ND and opposition PASOK over the next few weeks will reveal whether their declarations for education reforms are honest or whether the new bill is being exploited to advance their respective party political agendas. Before the leaderships of these two parties finalize their stances on this controversial issue and make them public, they should consider that citizens want consensus in the education sector more than in any other sector. And it is sad that Papandreou’s most recent comments on the subject are not very encouraging vis-a-vis the stance that PASOK will adopt at the end of the day.