GREECE: Soft measures and harsh fines

Although the Greek government is doing its best to back favourable legislation for private colleges that have sought a licence to operate from the new academic year in September, the European Court of Justice has put Greece on the spot once again - this time for failing to follow directives relating to the recognition of professional qualifications of graduates from colleges cooperating with EU universities.

More than nine months after a decision taken as a result of intense pressure from the EU to establish some form of order in the activities of the private colleges, the Ministry of Education has published a set of specifications required for a licence. But these go beyond even the wilder dreams of the most optimistic owners, raising speculation the government is deliberately attempting a further subversion of state education in favour of the private sector.

Gone are the tough measures announced by the government last October. Those remaining give ample opportunity to the 38 colleges that have applied for a licence to implement them by 31 August when their assessment should be completed prior to issuing a licence.

It was made clear in the EU directive that the ministry could not be responsible for the study programme of the colleges or the qualifications of their teaching personnel, only 30% of whom are obliged to have a PhD.

Yet the ministry itself relinquished the right to set tough measures and specifications regarding building infrastructure and essential equipment , even though the college owners were not opposed.

Under the remaining new regulations, an area as little as 300 square meters is thought to be adequate to establish a private college. Essentials such as elevators, heating, library, multimedia rooms and sporting facilities (all expressly required in the earlier specifications) have been deleted.

Having a library is thought to be extremely important. Whereas in the earlier measures the ministry had set detailed specifications regarding the size of the room, number of the books and regular updating, specific operating rules as well as electronic management and equipment wholly owned by the college itself, the new regulations do not specify such things.

Although the financial guarantee for the operating licence remains in the region of EUR500,000 (US$700,000), specifications regarding fire safety and security have been reduced to such an extent as to be almost negligible.

Moreover, private colleges will be allowed to operate without the obligation to establish fully equipped laboratories provided they can secure access for their students to outside contractually available ones.

This last provision appears to be extremely attractive to potential investors whose main interest in post-secondary and higher education is the size of the profit. But it is a potential source of concern to college owners who are anxious to promote their business as providing 'alternative' higher education.

Meanwhile, Greece has attracted yet another conviction and a fine from the European Court of Justice for failing to comply with EU directives regarding the recognition of the professional qualifications of private college graduates.

The EU Commission asked the court to ascertain whether by non-instituting the necessary legal and administrative measures outlined in directive 2005/36/EC of 7 September 2005, Greece had not complied with the responsibilities arising from the directive relating to qualifications acquired in other member states.

After a long process of exchanging letters and information, the commission established that by not instituting within the specific period of time the necessary legal and administrative measures to comply with the directive, Greece had not complied. The court ruled that Greece had not complied, found in favour of the commission and ordered Greece to pay the legal costs.