Political chicanery

Education Minister Petros Efthymiou’s announcement that new tertiary education institutions are to be established in the capital cities of all prefectures which have not yet had such schools has satisfied local communities. From one point of view, this helps PASOK’s aims in view of the municipal and prefectural elections in October. But it is not at all certain whether this serves the real needs of Greek society for tertiary education. In fact, it condemns the new institutes to be forever poor atrophied copies of real universities. The prerequisite for the proper, complete education of students is the existence of a university community. And the prerequisite for such a community is not only the existence of a critical body of teachers and students but the coexistence of various disciplines. Only in such a multifaceted environment can the true climate of scientific dialogue and research develop. These self-evident principles have always been respected worldwide. In the 1960s, when the issue of starting up new regional universities in Greece arose, nobody thought of scattering them far and wide. The universities of Patras and later of Ioannina were set up to be full scale universities. The rot set in during the 1980s, when the government fragmented universities to satisfy cities that wanted to be the seats of new regional universities. The dire examples of the universities of Thessaly, Thrace, Crete, the Aegean and Ionian are now being applied to the new or projected universities of the Peloponnese, Western Macedonia and Central Greece, even though experience has proven the negative consequences – of which the phenomenon of professors who fly in and out is just one example. Understandable though the demands by provincial cities are for ways of improving their development prospects, universities cannot play the part that army camps once did. The issue is not for universities to operate in regional capitals, but for the government to choose those cities that could eventually become university cities. The education minister’s decision to set up at least one tertiary department in each provincial capital is a manifestation of political chicanery. Government rhetoric misses no opportunity of denouncing demagoguery and populism, but government practices frequently succumb to their lure. On this matter, alas, the consequences for higher education will be serious and long-lasting.