Universities face grave financial threat

Universities and higher education institutions in Greece that have not held elections for the composition of their new management councils are in grave and imminent danger of losing state financial support.

A severe ultimatum was issued by the Education Ministry to all universities and technology institutes that have not yet complied with the provisions of the law 4009/11 voted through parliament last September.

So far only two of more than 60 higher education institutions have completed the process and the ministry has announced that financial support will cease after 15 January.

Opposition to the law, regarded by the academic community as an attempt to privatise state higher education via the back door, was expressed by the majority of university rectors and they have vied to render it inoperative.

The government, which has cut state financing to universities by between 40% and 50% in the past year as a result of the country's dire economic situation, is now threatening to stop aid altogether unless the provisions of the law are adhered to.

The rectors on the other hand claim that the law is unconstitutional and have appealed to the State Council, the highest judiciary authority in the country. The case will be heard on 3 February.

Meanwhile, Deputy Education Minister Professor Konstantinos Arvanitopoulos has met with a delegation of rectors in an attempt to discuss specific proposals for a mutually acceptable solution to the problem.

It is thought that if the ministry tacitly agrees to extend the 15 January deadline and the rectors commit to a date when the electoral process would be completed, an agreement between the two sides might be possible.

The thorn in the flesh for the rectors is changes in law making university budgets the responsibility of elected management councils in future instead of the university senate. They asked for the suspension of that part of the law but both Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou and Arvanitopoulos were against the idea.

It is interesting to note that the hostile climate against the higher education law when it was first voted in parliament has completely evaporated; more significantly, there are now large numbers of professors clearly supporting the law, putting pressure on rectors to change their stance.

At a meeting of the professors' association at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Rector John Mylopoulos, a staunch opponent of the law since its inception, was accused of deliberately adopting an obstructionist trade union mentality towards the legislation.

Mylopoulos claimed that his critics were a very small minority who were motivated by personal interests, and issued a long statement defending his own and the senate's actions, blaming the education ministry for taking contradictory decisions and imposing tight timetables.

He also said that discussions between the rectors' coordinating committee and the deputy education minister were being carried out in a spirit of accord and were likely to produce positive results.

"In any case," he said, "neither tension, polarity and discord among academics, nor threats and blackmail on the part of the ministry, promote good relations in the academic community and should be avoided."

Meanwhile, Diamantopoulou has tabled a bill before parliament for the reform of secondary education and changes in the system of examinations for university entry.

"A government based on the consensus of several parties in parliament is the ideal environment for the promotion of educational subjects," Diamantopoulou said, referring to the coalition government currently in Greece headed by banker Lukas Papadimos and the participation of the extreme right wing party.

"I hope this consensus continues to exist."

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Greek academics, who on average cost the Greek taxpayer more than academics in central Europe and the Balkans, should be ashamed of themselves for creating what is probably the worst system of higher education in Europe and possibly in the civilised world.

Greek universities are run like mafia organisations in the interests only of the faculty in power. Greek students, who for the most part are very able, suffer from what is, on the one hand, one of the most expensive systems in the world, but on the other, offers them virtually nothing - no organisation, no tutorials, no support, continuous strikes and massive corruption.

It is time the academics put their huge egos to one aside and adopted Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou's proposals. Otherwise, I suggest that successful private universities in other countries such as the United States or even Turkey be given the task of reorganising Greece's university system on merit.

Overpaid and for the most part lazy and disorganised Greek academics will not be able to behave in front of US employers the same way they behave to the Greek tax payer and get away with it.

No-one has sympathy for the Greek academic sector and the mess they have made of Greek higher learning. And, sadly, many student organisations are also to blame.

The losers are genuine students and their long-suffering parents.

Lord Wilson


Please allow me to add an important correction to the comment by "Lord Wilson" and provide some more information about the current state of higher education in Greece.

Wilson states that Greek academics are "overpaid and for the most part lazy and disorganised [...]" and makes universities out to be "run like mafia organisations in the interests only of the faculty in power."

Three of these claims express subjective impressions and are therefore notoriously hard to judge. I take serious issue, though, with Lord Wilson's spectacularly unfounded proposition that academics are overpaid in Greece. A brief look at the relevant facts disconfirms this bewildering statement. To take one example, as of late 2011, assistant professors were reimbursed with an average of EUR1,361 (US$1,736) a month (down from EUR1,841 a month in 2008).

This corresponds to the salary of a kindergarten teacher in countries like Austria. Postdocs at any respectable institution in Western Europe or the USA are considerably better taken care of. The list could go on.

No wonder Greek's most valuable export product consists in highly qualified young academics and students: Greek is worldwide number one in student emigration per capita, tracking only China in absolute numbers.

That said, it is possible to be more specific on the diagnosis. There are at least three major factors that are directly causally linked to under-performance of the Greek higher educational system (here, Wilson's and my assessments partially overlap): (i) the absence of a performance oriented remuneration system, which would also contribute to boost constructive academic competition; (ii) Kafkaesque, inane bureaucratic hurdles including virtually never-ending self-evaluation procedures; and (iii) the dismal work ethic and wide spread lack of motivation characteristic of many - yet by no means all! - civil servants in higher education, be it departmental staff, librarians or civil servants at one of the many subsidiaries of the ministry of education.

Let it be noted, though, that Greece is by no means different in this respect from many another country. Also, let me stress again that this assessment does not apply across the board.

Moving to future prospects, there is - and here I part with Wilson most distinctly - also reason for hope, hope which also comes in the shape of a number of concrete suggestions. Each of these suggestions could be easily implemented with the help of minimal resources and based on infrastructure that is largely already in place. More specifically, what many of us working at Greek universities would first and foremost like to see is a rapid, radical move towards transparency and personal accountability. This might include:

(i) making publicly available the full amount of university related income of each employee, faculty and staff (eg following salary transparency laws of the state of California); and full disclosure of financial assets collected by former (sic!) and present university representatives (university presidents, vice-presidents, deans).

(ii) holding personally accountable each civil servant and university employee responsible for the engineering, dissemination or enforcement of irrelevant, inconsistent, incomprehensible or redundant laws and edicts, as well as any other known malicious bureaucratic practice that obstructs work in academia.

(iii) a registry keeping track of employees claiming excessive amounts of unjustified or unexcused absences, thereby chronically abusing the public sector's financial basis and their co-workers' patience.

For further information click here (in Greek).

Winfried Lechner