GREECE: More money to boost development

Greek universities are funded entirely by the Greek state. They supplement their income from EU programmes and the more successful ones from private research and surveys. But, to all intents and purposes, the state is the financial mainstay.

Universities receive some grants and donations from private individuals, although not enough to make any real difference to their finances, and students do not pay fees. Larger, more established universities might have accumulated some property and stock and shares but these mostly remain unexploited and bring in little income.

Article 16 of the Greek constitution (an attempt to reform it caused a great deal of bitter conflict last summer) states unequivocally that it is the exclusive responsibility of the state to provide free education to all its citizens. Unfortunately it does not specify either the quality or the level of the funding necessary to achieve this.

Chronic under-funding by successive governments has bedeviled Greek education, and particularly higher education, since the inception of the modern Greek state as far back as the beginning of the 19th century after the war of independence.

It effectively restricts academic development and the quality of service universities provide for their students in terms of tuition, laboratories, equipment, books, libraries, research opportunities, grants, scholarships, campus facilities and student accommodation. The latter is totally inadequate, of poor quality and often expensive.

The annual state allocation is some €5,000 million for all levels of education. It currently represents just 3% of GNP and is the lowest in the EU.

The main metropolitan universities in Athens, Salonica, Patras, Crete and Ioannina get the lion’s share while the balance is distributed among another 10 regional universities and 32 technological institutes that were upgraded to higher education status.

There is a constant demand by all sections of the academic community to increase spending to 5% of GNP but it falls on completely deaf political ears of all persuasions.

The universities manage their funds with varying degrees of success, prudently on the whole but on rare occasions elected leaderships have not been able to avoid either the accidental or deliberate squandering of public money.

While students do not pay fees and get books free, they have to meet their own living expenses. Grants and scholarships are few and extremely difficult to obtain. The State Grants Foundation receives up to 4,000 applications a year for postgraduate studies but is unable to provide more than 250.

The situation has improved substantially since Greece joined the EU but there is still a long way to go. Few foreign students attend Greek universities, mainly on exchange visits, and they do not pay any fees.

Holding the purse strings gives the state enormous leverage in the way universities are administered, although it does not entirely compromise either their autonomy or their independence. In recent years universities have been under-funded as a means of justifying introduction of private higher education institutions with the least possible public resistance.

One of the most successful Greek universities is the Metsovio Technological University in Athens, with more than 13,000 students, over 600 lecturers and more than 120 laboratories. There are also 1,800 postgraduate students and more than 2,500 doctoral candidates.

The university handles some €120 million a year, of which 60% comes from research and surveys. It has a library of 55,000 books and an average of 15 publications per member of teaching staff. Remarkably, 75% of its graduates find a job within 60 days of graduation.

Another equally successful university is the University of Crete which also earns large sums from a number of innovative research programmes, surveys and technological applications.

Greek universities on the whole are doing an extremely valuable job, taking into consideration the levels of funding they receive and the large number of Greek students who pursue further studies and successful careers abroad.

Additional funds would undoubtedly allow them to expand their postgraduate and research facilities in terms of buildings and state of the art equipment – and almost certainly stem the young brain-drain while obviating the need for further studies in foreign countries with such enormous cost to the Greek economy.

A far-sighted policy of long term investment in education could have an enormous impact in the development of the country as well as a substantial return on the initial expenditure.