GREECE: Students escalate opposition to reforms

Greece's Education Secretary Anna Diamantopoulou has warned that students risk not being accredited with the autumn semester if they continue to be involved in escalating protests over higher education reforms, including the occupation of more than 350 faculties.

Many Greek universities are facing severe administrative problems as a result of the three-week occupation of facilities by students.

Although there have been some disagreements in their ranks, the majority of students voted to continue the occupations, reviewing the situation week by week, and to escalate their action in order to render new higher education laws inoperable.

Already the time available for the autumn examination period is running out and there are problems with new registrations, arrangements for student accommodation, and the ratification of appointments of department presidents.

The number of schools under student occupation is rising daily. As a result, institutions are unable to implement changes demanded by the new legislation or supply essential information to the government so that its programme of mergers and amalgamations of institutions can go ahead.

Alarmed by the strength and continuous escalation of student reactions, Diamantopoulou threatened students who take part in demonstrations and occupations with losing academic credit. But the statement fuelled more reaction from students and appeared to strengthen their resolve to continue protesting.

Diamantopoulou also advised university rectors that the current legislation, which abolished the university's sanctuary status, gives them the right to call in the police to evict students occupying institutions. Rectors have so far been reluctant to take such measures, fearing it will escalate student action and lead to costly damage to buildings and materials

The Federation of University Teachers Associations (POSDEP) and teaching staff at the Athens Economic University have declared unambiguously their opposition to the law, but voiced concern about protests preventing institutions from doing their work.

In a written statement POSDEP said: "Reservations or even direct opposition to the recent legislative changes in higher education could not provide an alibi for the disruption of the operation of the institutions". It said universities "must remain open".

The teaching staff at Athens Economic University said the occupation of institutions was legally and morally without justification and called on the state to ensure "the unhindered access to work areas so that research and tuition can continue to take place".

The implementation of the framework legislation, which was passed in parliament on 25 August, has already hit a number of constitutional stumbling blocks related to the independent nature of higher education.

Many rectors, vice-rectors and senior professors have refused to take part in bodies that have been given responsibility for implementing new legislative provisions within specific and tight periods.

The law requires the participation of two former rectors and three former vice-rectors in the interim committees of each university, which will elect members of new boards of trustees, which will manage universities.

Among the boycotting academics were Konstantinos Moutzouris and Gerasimos Spathis, former rector and vice-rector of the Athens Technical University.

Moutzouris claimed personal reasons for his non-participation in the five-member committee but Spathis called on his fellow professors to also refuse to participate so that the law becomes inoperable.

Spathis said the legislation was not only unconstitutional but would have "traumatic consequences" for the content and substance of university studies and would take universities "back to a period of oligarchy and an autocratic model of management".

Professor Kostas Zouras, former rector of the University of the Aegean, is also refusing to take part in the organising committee for the composition of the institution's management council that will operate the new legislation.

The strongest condemnation of Diamantopoulou's reforms came from the senate of the University of Crete, which said the new legislation subverted the concept of the university and attempted to replace it with a collegiate-type higher education based on the provision of certain study programmes rather than on fundamental scientific knowledge.

It warned that universities would be "run by people who are oriented to teaching and planning study programmes not necessarily with academic criteria".

Christos Papoutsis, Minister for Citizen Protection, accused rectors of aiding and abetting student occupations of their institutions in an attempt to "resist the modernisation attempted by the government".

Throughout last week students, lecturers and many parents took part in marches and demonstrations protesting against provisions in the legislation.

The success of the legislation may depend on whether they continue their protests into October, when the academic year begins, and on whether any of its provisions are deemed unconstitutional by the state council. A decision could be taken before the start of the academic year, but this has not been confirmed.

* Diamantopoulou's political problems are not confined to higher education. Primary and secondary school pupils found they had no books when they returned to school on 13 September. It has been claimed that officials forgot to get them printed. There have also been contrary suggestions that this was a cost-saving measure.

However, photocopies of chapters are being prepared to cover the period to Christmas when the books will be ready - at an estimated five times the cost of printing the books.