GREECE: Engagement is a moveable feast

Community engagement is a somewhat moveable feast in Greece. It means different things to different people and varies from place to place because communities have different needs. Commitment also fluctuates from one institution to another because of disparities in funds available and different research interests.

There is, however, a wide variety of community projects on the go in Greece.

They range from support for a local hospital and social and sports events to research on crime and liaison with local industry for the more effective use of research.

There are self-help programmes for drug and alcohol addicts, support for dysfunctional families, and a variety of cultural and welfare activities for students and university employees.

The psychology department of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki runs a street-work programme for drug and alcohol addicts in their own homes and haunts. Started with funding from the Fight Drugs Agency, the project is continuing using university funds.

The University of Ioannina runs a local hospital, a technological park and a host of other activities for the community including cultural and sports activities.

So community engagement is taking place in Greece – but certainly more could be done, and there is a need for a concerted plan and, clearly, increased resources. The question is, who would take the initiative?

Not the current government, which is uninterested in community engagement and is revealing a hard new-liberal face by taking from the poor and giving generously to the rich.

Universities and other higher education institutions would probably like to do more, but lack of funding and the many pressing problems they currently face will probably prevent them from more actively pursuing active community engagement.

Greek state universities are struggling, on the one hand, to establish identities and protect autonomy that is under threat from political independence, and on the other hand to deal with a series of problems – sources of finance, four-year contracts with the government, assessment, academic asylum, eternal students and so on.

Moreover, the current debate on private universities – the recognition and upgrading of private college – is a thorny issue and one that is likely to change the character of the state university.

And community engagement by universities is unlikely to thrive in a national environment which devalues sociologists despite the existence of sharp social problems. The skills of sociologists are largely ignored, and at a recent congress it was reported that 62% of sociology graduates were either unemployed or working in areas other than their own discipline.

However, it is not all doom and gloom.

The path to community engagement may not resemble a huge avenue strewn with good intentions, but it certainly comprises of many individual tracks and trails which lead to the same objective.

There are many strands which join academia to communities, and perhaps all it needs is for someone to pull them together in order to secure a more lasting cooperation and benefits for both.