GREECE: Academia rejects government reforms

Government proposals for wholesale reform of higher education have generated angry opposition among rectors and students.

The reforms applying to universities and technological institutions were outlined by Prime Minister George Papandreou at the Delphi European Cultural Centre last month.

Casus belli for the academic community are plans to replace elected university rectors with technocrat managers from outside the academic community; the appointment of foreign academics as rectors of Greek universities; and the replacement of the state financial commitment with private funds, which is seen as a first step towards privatisation of higher education.

Two major universities, the Technological University of Athens and the University of Patras, have already demonstrated their opposition by refusing to participate in the forthcoming dialogue on the measures under the auspices of the education ministry.

They also refused to participate in the Rectors' Conference convened during the weekend of 23-24 October in Crete, where the Education Secretary Anna Diamandopoulou presented the draft document with the government proposals as the basis for the dialogue.

In addition the University of Athens, the country's premier higher education institution, announced its own programme of reforms, essentially declaring independence from the government plans, although its rector, Thanasis Pelegrinis, was careful to clarify that the university will not break the law.

"Our institution as an independent organisation has the right to decide the way it is managed," he said, "but we have no intention to operate in any way other than strictly within the laws of the state."

In a strongly worded resolution the senate committee of the Technological University said the measures represented an attack on state university education.

It said: "The government proposals for reform are intended to disregard and humiliate the state university and its officials, aim to damage the state nature of higher education, reduce further the state funding and prepare the way for the establishment of private universities which will have most devastating consequences for the country."

The University of Patras accused the government of provocative announcements that "offend the entire academic community", and warned that "defamation" of the Greek state university "undermines any possibility of communication".

It is a measure of the strength of opposition to the measures that the 65th Rectors' Conference in Crete, where Diamandopoulou presented the draft proposals, was carried out under strong security. The police prevented anyone who was not officially participating in the conference, including the press, from going near the area.

Nevertheless, large numbers of students who went to Crete from all over the country clashed with the police, who used chemicals to disperse them and made a number of arrests. On Sunday 24 October university students demonstrated in the city of Rethymnon.

Diamandopoulou said: "All of us will be judged by our participation and not by our refusal to participate in the ensuing dialogue."

But the rectors were riled by the government's attempts to transfer the universities' management to external technocrats and collectively rejected the proposed reforms, claiming that the proposals were 'unconstitutional'.

"A far batter basis for dialogue would have been a guarantee for the complete self-governing independent status of the state university," they said in a statement. "The organisation and operation of the universities could be better achieved with the establishment of higher democratic and academic criteria."

The Panhellenic Federation of University Teachers Associations (POSDEP) also rejected the draft proposals.

Meanwhile students are flexing their muscles. Already several colleges and departments in the capital, Athens, were under occupation last week. In the provinces students were meeting to follow suit, and some student unions are organising marches and demonstrations in provincial cities.