OPINION

Letter from Thessaloniki

June means school gets out. However, the unrest over education in Greece goes on and on. The month of May showed that each student riot is worse than the last. The students’ bravado is cumulative: It presents Greece’s university cities with a threat that is violent and contagious enough to be alarming – yet small enough for the time being to be containable, if enough is done quickly. Alas, that is a practice seldom applicable in this country. Once more violent incidents shook Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University last week. After rector Anastassios Manthos was knocked out during a student protest on campus on Wednesday, two of the university guards were taken to the hospital after suffering serious beatings at the hands of around 30 hooded assailants. Meanwhile, in Athens and Thessaloniki, students staged peaceful protests expressing opposition to reforms in the education sector. Student unrest has become a common phenomenon in Greek universities since the government insisted that planned reforms – envisaging stricter assessment of state universities and the creation of private ones – would go ahead. With only a 6 percent increase in last year’s budget, education is once again treated as a poor relation compared with hefty increases for defense (8.3 percent), health (9.4 percent) and public order (8.7 percent). Despite pompous declarations and grandiloquent promises by politicians, the most serious problem for state universities in Greece remains its dramatic underfunding – a sad fact that influences both its operation and development.  However, what students are mostly against is the abolition of the notorious Article 16. Article 16 of the Greek Constitution stipulates that higher education is provided free of charge at state institutions, and that private universities are prohibited. Sure enough, closely linked to Article 16 is the fact Greece has a world record of students studying abroad for the size of its population. In fact, Greece is a country of student migration par excellence. Thousands of young people who fail to enter Greek universities look every year for a place in the universities of the West – as well as in Eastern Europe, paying high fees. Just to mention a typical case, Greece is one of Britain’s best customers, with more students at tertiary education establishments than any other foreign country. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the British have long since embarked on a massive promotion campaign to exploit the gold mine from this Mediterranean neighborhood to the full. Surely things could be different, because Greece has the potential to attract students from the Balkans and the Black Sea. This could apply especially for studies in fields that are connected with the market economy, such as finance, business management, marketing etc. In those new Greek universities that are nearer than ever, Greeks could by all means also study – under the condition, of course, that they can pay the high tuition fees that foreigners pay. After the soon-to-be-expected turning of a new page in this country’s education book, there is a school in Thessaloniki more than ready to oblige. Anatolia College was founded in 1886 at the Merzifon Seminary in Ottoman Turkey with Charles Tracy as president. The students were principally Greek and Armenian and boarded at the school. At the time, Anatolia was incorporated under the laws of the US state of Massachusetts. After the 1922 Greek disaster in Asia Minor, and with the help of Eleftherios Venizelos, the school reopened in Thessaloniki in 1924 with 13 students, mostly refugees. In 1934, it moved to a newly constructed campus above the city near the village of Pylaia, on the lower slopes of Mt Hortiatis. After Anatolia College celebrated its centennial year in 1986, under the presidency of Richard L. Jackson, a high-speed restructuring began which upgraded the school. Five years ago, the university division of Anatolia, as it has been called since, was the only US accrediting MBA program in northern Greece. In 2002, there were 40 students from three continents, coming from seven different countries.  Note that there are several «American universities» operating in our Balkan neighborhood. In particular, Kosovo has 40-50 small universities and the AUK (American University of Kosovo) awards a Rochester degree. On the other geographical end, the University of Bucharest, along with four or five other private institutions, monopolizes the Romanian market. In Albania, there are 12 public and 18 state universities (most of them operating without licenses). In the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), there was a campaign last year asking prospective students to search for accredited universities. And, of course, there is the private American-style liberal arts university located in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, just a few miles north of the Greek border. It should be mentioned here that even the Turkish-Cypriot breakaway statelet in the island’s north has since set up English-language universities, aiming to attract students from Islamic countries. Up to now, Greece has been repeatedly dragged to the European Court over the issue of the country’s non-recognition of foreign institutions working in this country. However, laws are bound to change. Last week during his speech in Parliament, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis made it clear that the reforms would go ahead. «We are obliged to challenge the absolute power of certain self-serving individuals who have secured niches (in the university system) and to allow… non-profit organizations to exploit opportunities,» he said.