GREECE: Tough regulations create more unrest

Tough new measures are being imposed by the Greek Education Ministry on universities and technology institutes. Although the institutions are supposed to be autonomous and self-administering, the government intends to exercise greater control over their operations, restrict academic freedom and trade union activity, and curtail student mobilisation.

The new measures were introduced following the failure of almost all the higher education institutions themselves to produce their own internal regulations as demanded by legislation brought in by the government last summer.

Six months after its introduction, the Education Ministry exercised an option to introduce its own Model Internal Regulations for the Operation of the Higher Education Institutions. These are compulsory for those institutions that have not proposed their own and will apply until they produce them.

The regulations interpret and expand the provisions of the legislation in assessment, the four-year rolling financial programme, duration of studies, credit units, appointment of a secretary-general, plant and building management, and security. They also introduce a series of disciplinary measures - a great deal more severe than existing ones - covering academic staff and students.

It is not the first time that an attempt has been made by the government to impose an inflexible disciplinary system. Each time in the past, it has been rejected by the higher education institutions as being against the spirit of their mission and was not implemented. But this is the first time the disciplinary process and the functions of those responsible for its implementation have been described with such detail and lucidity.

The new regulations expressly forbid the conscious use of other people's work without proper mention of their contribution in the research or teaching project; the conscious neglect to declare a possible conflict of interest by a participator in a research project; the unauthorised use of areas and/or equipment in a way that is in direct conflict with the institution's mission and without the express permission of those responsible; and, finally, engaging in behaviour not in accord with the provisions of the Civil Service Code.

There are special provisions for undergraduates, postgraduates and those studying for their doctoral degrees. The use of methods which violate the process of examination; destruction of institutional property; disruption of an institution's operation: occupations of schools and departments, and disruptions of general assemblies of academic bodies, holding hostage professors, rectors, or other members of the academic staff are all expressly forbidden.

A written reprimand to start with and a subsequent fine equal to 1/10th of the monthly salary, followed by temporary suspension from one month to a year and, finally, dismissal are the disciplinary measures proposed for academic staff who fall foul of the Model Internal Regulations provisions.

The disciplinary measures for students provide for a written reprimand to start with, subsequent prevention of the use of equipment, libraries and other areas of the institution, and finally suspension of the student status.

The regulations provide for the employment of a supervisor and assistant supervisor with responsibility for the cleanliness and the security of all the areas of the university or the higher education institution. They do not clarify whether institutions can employ additional staff for these duties or give the tasks to private operators. But this is thought to be an area which could create future conflict.

Timing of the publication of the regulations is causing a great deal of concern. The academic community is already in a state of unrest: there have been two 48-hour closures of higher education institutions during November as well as marches and demonstrations by academics and students regarding the EU's directive for the recognition of the certificates of private colleges. Another is planned for Wednesday, 10 December.

Instead of seeking ways to ameliorate the academic community, the government seems intent on sharpening the conflict. In the past, the institutions have refused to implement government directives and they appear reluctant to do so this time.

Education Secretary Evripidis Stylianidis has threatened to withdraw much-needed funds from the institutions if they do not comply. Former secretaries have also sought recourse to strong-arm tactics to impose their views on a reluctant academic community but more often than not they did not survive politically.

It will be interesting to see who wins the inevitable bras-de-fer this time.