GREECE: OU offers record number of places

More than a decade after it was established, the Greek Open University will next year make available a record 8,260 places on undergraduate and post-graduate courses to people who for a variety of reason were not able to complete their studies.

For the 2011-12 academic year a total of 7,700 places will be allocated to 32 undergraduate and postgraduate courses available to all students; 210 places in graduate programmes to students with special needs; and a further 350 in postgraduate programmes exclusively to teaching staff already employed in technical and vocational institutes.

Of these, 4,200 will be available in 26 undergraduate programmes and 3,500 in six postgraduate programmes. The final number was due for confirmation by the Education Ministry at the end of September.

More than 80,000 applicants are expected - people who wish to improve their qualifications to obtain a better job, and those who wish to have a second chance, most of them mature students, the unemployed and single parents.

Unlike the other Greek universities, students at the OU are accepted without examinations. Selection takes place by open, public lottery. Applicants are allowed to submit only one application; if found to have submitted more than one, applicants are rejected even if they were lucky enough to be selected.

Applications are submitted between November and mid-December, and the lottery takes place a few days later. Students are notified immediately afterwards and tuition starts the following autumn.

Courses are divided into modules which give students a great deal of flexibility and are delivered through distance learning. Undergraduates have to complete 12 modules over four years and prepare four to six assignments for each module with an exam at the end of each and at the end of the academic year. Postgraduate students take at least four modules and write a dissertation.

The OU is a state-financed institution but students cover part of their education expenses by paying fees. Undergraduates pay EUR700 (US$950) per module or a total of EUR8,400, and postgraduates EUR850 per module or EUR3,400 for the course.

Most students are in work and can afford to pay fees but provision has been made for those who are unable to do so by establishing a wide network of grants and scholarships.

The OU operates with a very small number of tenured academics and a large number of tutors on short (mostly one-year) contracts. In addition to their teaching duties and responsibility for supervision of courses and coordination of tutors, academics are expected to carry out research that centres on distant learning.

According to a survey carried out by the student union and broadly confirmed by the university, it appears that 62% of students are over the age of 35. Women make up 74% and 20% are employed in the public sector, 36% on the private sector and 19% are self-employed. Part-time workers comprise 9% and 12% are unemployed.

Of those who choose to study through the OU, 68% wish to change their profession and 32% wish to change their present job.

While conventional universities have numbers of students who register and then disappear for many years, sometimes never to be seen again, OU students who do not submit assignments for more than two years are automatically dismissed.

OU students spend on average 40 hours a week reading but there is a high drop-out rate, attributed to the demands made on students by family and place of employment, lack of academic commitment and inadequate or inappropriate preparation, as well as lack of a university culture for greater use of electronic technology. Students communicate with their tutors by letter, telephone, fax and e-mail.

Although the professional rights of graduate and postgraduate OU students are fully established, their unemployment rate is far higher than for those from conventional universities. This is perhaps the result of a deep-seated Greek conservatism not yet widely familiar with or ready to accept modern methods of tuition.