GREECE: Education only way out of the crisis

Greek universities have yet to feel the full effects of the Great Global Recession, with no sign of staff redundancies or closures of schools or departments. But they do stand to benefit considerably from a change of government should George Papandreou take over as President after the general elections, now expected to coincide with the European elections on 7 June. As leader of the official opposition Panhellenic Socialist Party, Papandreou is tipped to win the election and has promised that "investing in education is the only way out of the crisis".

He made the comment while unveiling his plans for education at a meeting of his party's education committee last week. Papandreou declared that when his party came to power he would boost education spending to 5% of the GNP and add a further 2% for research within the first four years of his administration. He also promised to allocate an additional EUR1 billion (US$1.37 billion) to education in his government's first budget.

The current conservative government has lost its parliamentary majority of one in the Greek parliament as a result of yet another scandal. But Greek politicians in Opposition more often than not promise a great deal more than what they can deliver when in power.

In this respect the would-be premier is no exception and most of the electorate will remember that twice before when he was Secretary for Education (1988-1989 and 1994-1996) in his father's administrations he patently failed to implement this exact measure - a permanent demand by the academic community in recent memory.

Asked where the additional funds would come from, Papandreou said some would come from restricting waste currently rampant in the country, a fairer tax system, and from the European Investment Bank. He did not omit to accuse the government of keeping the Greek people "captive of an educational system which is not only inadequate in itself, it also promotes and propagates inequality".

Tax avoidance is a highly developed sport in Greece and Papandreou's determination to compel the rich to contribute their fair share of the financial burden would certainly be approved by the electorate. "Our plans", he said, "are realistic and we will implement them in a very orderly and practical fashion."

Papandreou, a staunch admirer of modern technology, confessed that his ambition was to see every student with an e-book as soon as possible. He told his audience he had been in touch with Greek-American scientist Nikolas Negroponte, designer of the $100 computer, who assured him that if the government ordered a substantial number of e-books they would cost as little as $60 each.

Papandreou, whose party is engaged in a public dialogue on education currently under way under the chairmanship of Professor George Babiniotis, repeated his earlier proposal for the establishment of a National Certificate of Education which would be used to select students for university. He appeared to favour a foundation year when he stated that students who completed successfully their secondary education should be able to go to university where, during their studies, they would be given the opportunity to choose the department or the subject they wished to follow.

Papandreou, who is carefully building his profile as a dynamic but responsible leader, was anxious to condemn the violence currently on the increase in universities. Referring to the academic sanctuary law, he declared himself in favour of an open, public university where violence had no place.

"Problems are not solved with violence but with a democratic dialogue. Violence is an autocratic method whether it is carried out by the state or by small groups of people," he said. The current conservative government has lost its parliamentary majority of one in the Greek parliament as a result of yet another scandal.