GREECE: Higher education access reforms on the cards

Greece is proposing to radically reform access to higher education following this year's school-leaving examinations, which exposed the limitations of the current system and a failure to close an ever-widening gap between the brightest students and those who failed to meet requirements.

Although a substantial number of students achieved top grades (18-20) in their senior high school examinations and will take up places in the popular universities of Athens and Thessaloniki, and courses in high demand such as law, medicine and teacher education, an equally large number of students failed to reach the minimum grades required.

For the next academic year, students will be admitted to less popular courses in provincial universities and technological institutes without further examination, provided the grade of their final certificate from the senior high school (lykeio) is no lower than 10.

The ministry of education is also seriously considering abolishing or merging many courses at closely neighbouring institutions if they fail to attract sufficient numbers of students.

Last year more than 20,000 places were not taken up. The relaxation of restrictions is expected to reduce this to an estimated 5,000 non-taken places this year, but the figure may rise because many students will not bother to register for unpopular courses.

The problems arise from the policy demanding a university in every city and a technological institute in every town to boost the economic activity of the local community.

Now, however, students - and their parents who foot the bill - are not willing to choose far-flung universities and obscure courses taught in an antiquated environment.

Parents are increasingly choosing to pay fees to a private institution while their children remain at home during their studies instead of studying away from home.

Anna Diamandopoulou, the Education Secretary, announced that the present system of entrance examinations to higher education has run its course and will definitely be changed by the academic year 2013-14, when responsibility for setting student numbers and selection will be devolved to institutions themselves.

Although this change has been a long-term objective of higher education institutions, it will require substantial reforms and reorganisation in secondary education and specifically in the lykeio.

Diamandopoulou said that the aim was "to prepare students in a 'new' senior high school for a 'new' university", but she did not say where the money would come from in the new climate of economic austerity that has seen pay cuts of 25% to 30% for school teachers and university academics.

Opposition parties claimed the changes were anti-pedagogical because they allowed students to enter university without the necessary qualifications.

But a government spokesman said it gave students the chance to study at a higher education institution close to their home, instead of studying overseas with a consequent drain on the country's already limited resources.