GREECE: Education funding reduced despite GNP rise

With only a 6% increase in next year’s budget, which the Greek Chancellor will table in Parliament this month, education is once again treated as a poor relation compared with hefty increases for defence (8.3%), health (9.4%) and public order (8.7%).

Education’s allocation for the next fiscal year is 1% less than last year and grossly inadequate to service education’s deficit or finance increased expenditure in personnel, buildings and equipment. It seems that premier Karamanlis’ pre-election promise that he would increase education funding to 5% of gross national produce (GNP) will have to wait a little longer.

Spending on education has nosedived sharply in the last few years while costs have skyrocketed as a result of salary increases, building programmes, the creation of new departments, and improved working conditions for academics and staff.

Education funding fell steadily from 3.9% of GNP in 2004 to 3% this year and, following the Chancellor’s upward revision of GNP from €220 billion to €275 billion (US$322 to US$403), the ratio will be further reduced to just 2.5%

Under-funding is perhaps the most serious problem faced by higher education in Greece as it inevitably influences both its operation and its development. State universities are consistently under-funded despite pompous declarations and bombastic promises of generous increases by successive governments and political parties aspiring to power.

In 1981, Andreas Papandreou and the Panhellenic Socialist Movement won their first general election partly, at least, on a promise that education funding would be increased to 15% of the budget if they won power. But in 22 years of subsequent government, the promise was never fulfilled despite constant reminders, agitation, mobilisation, strikes, marches and demonstrations by successive generations of students usually supported by their lecturers.

More money for education was at the root of last year’s student unrest, along with their opposition to the government’s policy to allow the operation of private universities as a means of improving state universities through competition.

University chancellors have expressed deep disappointment at the provisions in next year’s budget while students and trade unions are flexing their muscles, preparing for dynamic intervention. In the current political climate, with a number of controversial reforms outstanding, it will be interesting to see how the government, with its slender majority, performs in the very sensitive area of higher education.