GREECE: Higher education in crisis

After almost a month of unrest, conflict and violence in Greek universities, all parties in the dispute - government, political parties, trade unions, lecturers and students - are seeking a way out of the crisis so the student examination period can go ahead unhindered.

Professor Anastasios Manthos, Rector of the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, was attacked and injured in a scuffle when a group of left-wing students opposed to the election procedure for a new Senate committee invaded the university. The students attempted to snatch the ballot box, which would have rendered the results null and void, and Manthos was inadvertently pushed to the ground while attempting to shield a member of staff from the attacking youths.

He suffered mild concussion and was taken to hospital where he was kept for precautionary reasons. In a separate incident, two security officers on duty at the same university were attacked by a group of hooded youths in a night raid and were also taken to hospital suffering from shock and facial and body injuries.

The entire academic community condemned the incidents while lecturers and staff abstained from duty for 24 hours in protest against the attacks of violence.

A lively debate in parliament between the government and the opposition parties brought no tangible results, other than mutual accusations as to who was responsible for the crisis in the universities.

Meanwhile in an unprecedented move, rectors of the country's 22 universities launched an appeal to all parties in the dispute to abstain from any activities for one day so a solution to the crisis could be found.

The rectors proposed to hold a press conference in the Greek parliament to achieve maximum publicity in an effort to find "a solution to the crisis besetting the Greek state universities".
The original proposal was made last week by the Rector of Athens University, Professor Christos Krittas, as a symbolic gesture of protest against the escalating violence but Manthos - the actual victim of the violence - opposed the suggestion.

"A closed university is a crime against society," Manthos said in a statement from his hospital bed. "The state university should never close. The only people who benefit from a closed university are those who are planning the downgrading of the state university." He added that in his statement he wished to make his position absolutely clear to his colleagues but would submit to the majority view if they decided to go ahead with the closure.

Despite this chaotic situation, Education Secretary Evripidis Stylianidis insisted it was obvious the government's education reform agenda was going ahead and was being applied in practice - causing even more concern in the academic community and the political parties.

Opposition leader George Papandreou accused the government of instigating and fomenting the conflict and the violence in the universities. Papandreou declared his party was in favour of "a free, democratic, self-governing and authoritative and, of course, open university", and pledged to stand alongside the academic community.

The left-wing Alliance Party accused the government and the opposition of promoting the concept of private universities and claimed it was outside its culture to support conflict or violence. The Alliance education committee condemned violence from any quarter and suggested that if the government wanted to bring peace to the universities all it had to do was:

* Suspend the current legal framework for universities and technological institutes which was unpopular with the academic community.
* Close all liberal studies centres instead of attempting to legalise them.
* Stop all attempts to establish private universities by widely interpreting the Greek constitution.
* Keep its pre-election promise to increase financing of the state universities to 5% of the GNP.