GREECE: Public-private money to create new university

The University of Peloponnese, the newest higher education institution in Greece, was founded in 2003 and has been operating ever since out of temporary accommodation. Now the university is to get brand new €100 million (US$1.46 million) facilities in five locations in southern Greece. The project will be completed by the newly created Public/Private Co-operation Section at the Finance Ministry, a method hitherto applied successfully only in industry but now for the first time tried in education.

The scheme has already been put out to tender and the first expressions of interest are expected soon. The contractors will be responsible for the survey, financing, construction, management and maintenance of some 40,000 square metres of office space, classrooms, laboratories, shops, restaurants and cafeterias, on land already cleared for the purpose in Tripolis, Kalamata, Sparti, Nafplio and Corinth.

The concession will be for 28 years, with a possibility of renewal at the end of the period. The aim is to achieve the best possible results in management, security and maintenance of the university’s infrastructure.

The original investment will be repaid by a combination of annual rentals as well as the proceeds from the commercial exploitation of shops and student facilities such as dormitories and cafeterias.

Compliance with the specific demands of the management, maintenance and availability of the buildings, as laid out in the terms and conditions between the state and private investors, will be the basis for the determination of the final ‘rental’ fee.

The cost of the project is estimated at €74 million without VAT. An additional 20% on the estimated cost will be needed for heavy maintenance and insurance, bringing the total cost close to €100m.

Welcome though it may be, private investment in education is likely to cause concern in the academic community. Will the private contractor’s responsibility for the management and maintenance of buildings restrict or even abolish in effect the university asylum? Given the government’s tendency to regard education as business, is this the first step towards the privatisation of education?

Giannis Tzoumerkas, director of the Peloponnese University president’s office, denied such a possibility: “Our aim is to get brand new facilities immediately without having to wait for the time when funds may be available in the national budget,” Tzoumerkas said.

He also rejected suggestions there was anything other than the university’s building programme involved behind the scheme. “The academic programme is and will remain the responsibility of the university’s senate committee,” Tzoumerkas said.

“And by definition, all the rights of the students and the staff will be the same as in any other Greek higher education institution.”

So far, higher education in Greece has been the exclusive responsibility of the state. It was established by article 16 in the Greek Constitution, which states that every Greek citizen is entitled to free education.

The present conservative government has never denied that it regards education as a business and would fervently desire to reform the Constitution and allow private universities to operate charging students high fees and creating huge inequalities among the population.

Last summer’s response of the academic community showed that these plans will not be easy to achieve. Already, students and academics are lining up for a new mobilisation this week. The University of Peloponnese scheme may well be the thin end of a very large wedge – and it may create de facto privatisation by the back door.