Greek rectors ask for European Union support over staff cuts

Rectors of Greek universities asked the European Parliament in Brussels last Thursday to put pressure on the Greek government not to implement an order that would see 1,349 administrative staff laid off in the months to come.

“We think that there should be European pressure on the Greek government so they realise that the measures taken in higher education in Greece will have an impact on Europe itself,” said Helen Karamalengou, a professor in the department of philology at the University of Athens, during a press briefing held in Brussels.

Professor Yannis Mylopoulos, rector of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and Professor Paris Tsartas, the rector from Aegean University Athens, who also attended the briefing, said the decision to lay off more than 1,000 administrative staff had been taken by the Greek government without consultation.

It was based on an assessment by the ministry that was never made public, the two leaders said.

“They went ahead with putting these people on reserve without explaining what criteria they used to reach this conclusion,” Mylopoulos said, noting that there had been a total lack of transparency from the Greek ministry of education and religious affairs.

According to him, the average ratio between administrative staff and students in Greece is 3.6 staff for every 100 students, much lower than the German standard – 11.5 for 100 students – or Britain’s Cambridge University, where there are 16 administrative staff members for every 100 students.

Mylopoulos argued that Greek universities were already understaffed and that a better solution would have been to shift some administrative staff from those universities or departments with spare capacity to institutions with labour shortages.

Laying them off was the worst that could be done, according to him.

“The Greek rectors’ council is currently demanding that this measure of putting administrative staff on reserve be put on ice,” he said. “We need an assessment of the needs and then we could see how Greek universities would benefit from this assessment.”

He told University World News: “Our question to the ministry is, ‘Is there a plan B?’”

According to Tsartas, the decision has been challenged at the Greek Supreme Court, which has yet to rule. For him, the layoff is more a political than a pragmatic decision: “This is about sending a message that the privatisation of higher education is a priority in Greece,” he said.

“What we are asking for now is that this attempt to downgrade and undermine Greek universities be stopped,” said Helen Karamalengou.

“The government wants to make changes within two weeks and find makeshift solutions which has created a situation that has not been seriously planned,” she added.