‘Athina’ shows universities the way to the marketplace

The Greek Education Ministry’s plan to abolish, relocate or merge higher education departments and in some cases entire universities for economic reasons is once again throwing the academic community into turmoil.

It will affect the studies of tens of thousands of students, the jobs of a large number of academics, the incomes of many parents already struggling to keep their scions in higher education, and communities that are dependent on institutions for their livelihoods.

The ministry’s plan, codenamed ‘Athina’ – the ancient goddess of wisdom and knowledge, who is now in danger of instead becoming emblematic of financial cuts – proposes the abolition of some 74 technological institute departments and 20 university departments.

Three institutions – the University of West Macedonia and the universities of West and Central Greece – will be abolished and their departments transferred to other institutions, some near and some further afield.

All higher education institutions in the greater Athens area except the Technological University are to be merged into a single federated university named Adamantios Korais.

The slogan of the 1960s and 1970s, "every town and university", which brought about a rapid expansion of free basic and higher education and made it available to people previously excluded, has been abandoned in favour of a more centralised system that will be less dependent on state funding.

A dozen major towns from a total of some 63 across the country will remain without any higher education institution, department or school, while more than 20,000 students will either have to abandon their studies or move to another town.

Reactions to the plan, which is also proposing a drastic reduction in the number of students who will enter university this year, have been many and varied, including one from the ministry’s own under-secretary responsible for cultural matters, Kostas Tzavaras, who disputed the expediency of the proposed reform.

Academics accused Education Minister Konstantinos Arvanitopoulos of acting on the basis of economics and not on academic criteria, but he strongly denied this.

He spoke instead of the plan “restructuring, reforming and uplifting the country’s educational system”, and “the economic recovery of the country and the development of a competitive human potential”.

He went on to announce the creation of a system of grading institutions based on a very tough assessment. which will become the criterion for allocating their already severely reduced state funding.

The minister did not omit to throw the blame for the current situation on the absence of a unified structural model and the spread of institutions in multiple departments, the non-existence of cognitive objectives and the absence of orthological development.

But he did diligently avoid touching on the prevailing public view that higher education’s problems have been created by the policies of those who now appear as its saviours.

Whatever the minister says, many academics, students and parents feel that the attempted reforms proposed by the Athina plan will result in greater financial cuts, a further reduction of state involvement in favour of the private sector, a sharp drop in the number of students entering higher education, and making state universities more attractive to the demands of the market.