Greece: Education squares up to the new government

The return of the conservative government in Greece for a second four-year period, albeit with a marginal majority of just two seats in the 300-seat parliament, is likely to inflame its bitter dispute with the nation’s academic community over the reform of Article 16 of the Constitution.

The move is thought to be the first step towards the ‘privatisation’ of education since it will open the way for the foundation of private universities and the corresponding gradual downgrading and under-funding of state-provided free education. Already, students, academics and their respective unions have drawn their battle lines in readiness well ahead of the new academic year.

The Greek Prime Minister, Kostas Karamanlis, in his inaugural address before the new Parliament, studiously avoided referring to the serious problems of higher education, except to restate his government’s determination to go ahead with the reform of article 16.

On the same wavelength, the new Education Secretary, Evripidis Stylianidis, stated that “education is a national priority and our aim is to go forward with consultation and consensus with the other political powers” – conveniently forgetting to mention anything about funding, a long-term demand of the academic community and an explicit government pre-election promise.

Stylianidis 41, a junior minister at the Greek Foreign Office, was promoted to the Education Ministry – regarded as something of a hot seat if not an electric chair – to replace Marietta Giannakou, the former Education Secretary and a Conservative leading light who failed to be re-elected.

Giannakou and one of her junior ministers, George Kalos (who also failed to be re-elected) paid the price for unpopular measures and Stylianidis has been brought in to see that the government’s programme – which claims to have received its message from the ballot box – is implemented without deviations.

If the government insists on its former policy then the new Education Secretary will have the unenviable task of persuading: the academic community that state education can provide improved services to students without additional funds; parents that private universities will not plunder their income in return for dubious quality degrees; and the EU that state institutions do not receive preferential funding treatment which will dilute fair competition.

Only time will tell whether Stylianidis is up to the task.