‘Stagnant’ students to be struck off enrolment register

Having ‘solved’, so to speak, problems that plague higher education – under-funding, lack of administration staff, conflicts arising from double-tier management and more – the Greek Education Ministry has turned its attention to 180,000 ‘eternal’ students who for various reasons have not completed their studies during the prescribed time – and is about to strike them off the register.

In an official letter the Education Ministry instructed all higher education institutions to compile a list of ‘stagnating’ students and strike them off the register by the end of the month because it is determined to “put an end to this degrading situation”.

It goes on to say that its aim is to adhere to the law and solve a series of administration problems, including falsification of the student population in universities and technology institutes.

In unusually tough language, the ministry warns institutions that “all those who believe in the necessity of the measure but feel we are going to go back on our decision for dubious party politics have only to wait for a few days in order to discover our determination”.

The style of language indubitably belongs to Education Secretary Andreas Loverdos, who implies that he is not prepared to follow his predecessors’ practices – most of whom announced measures for reasons of expediency – and is determined to turn words into action.

It is estimated that more than 180,000 students will be prevented from completing their studies and that many regional institutions will be so depleted of students that they will be either forced to close or to merge with neighbouring institutions, which is the Education Ministry’s aim in order to cut further costs.

Free public education is expensive

It is very well known that free public education in Greece is a very expensive commodity and has become more so after the financial meltdown.

It has been estimated that it costs between €3,500 and €4,000 (US$4,600 and US$5,300) per annum if a student is resident in Athens or has succeeded in an institution in his own home town and lives with his family; €5,000 to €5,500 if a student is lucky enough – and very few are – to secure a university place along with accommodation and food; and €7,000 to €7,500 if the student has to rent accommodation and pay living expenses.

The absence of a network of grants and scholarships puts the entire burden of the cost squarely on the shoulders of the family.

Where previously only very poor families were unable to sustain their offspring in higher education, the austerity measures – which threw nearly two million people out of work – have increased the number of families, particularly middle-class families, who are unable to finance the education costs of their offspring.

Traditionally the scions of poor families, if they succeeded in acquiring a place at university, had to get a job in order to attend and to complete their studies. Today more and more students from every walk of life, apart from the richest, have to do this.

Accordingly, over the years the number of students who are unable to complete their studies in the set time has been swelling. Universities know the problem and that is why they are against any kind of deregistration across the board.

It is true that some students abandoned their studies a long time ago, either because they were unable to deal with the increased effort or because they found satisfaction and security in a job and have become dedicated to it.

But there is also a very large number of students who are struggling, despite difficulties, to complete their studies and it would be extremely unfair to stop them doing so.

Universities appeal

Universities have appealed to the minister to extend the date of deregistration until after the September examination period, so as not to prevent supposedly non-active but willing students from taking part.

Athens University’s outgoing Rector Theodosis Pelegrinis, who is totally opposed to striking students across the board, said: "Both myself and the senate of the university have expressed our views on this point, which we feel is approached in a very spurious way."

In the same spirit the outgoing rector of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Giannis Mylopoulos, who is also opposed to striking off ‘non-active’ students without any evaluation, stated: “It is an unfair measure, particularly since everyone knows that the non-active students do not burden the universities financially.”

The Athens Technological Institute also declared its total opposition to any deregistration before the September examination period and announced that it would “facilitate the participation of ‘non-active’ students in the examination”.

It simultaneously appealed to the ministry and the education secretary to “realise not only the absurdity but also the consequences of the decision”. In a letter to the ministry, the institute stated that in principle it agreed with the measure, but asked for its postponement.

The institute said 75% of its student population – 60% of whom work and study simultaneously – complete their degrees after six years and that only 2% of the total 180,000 estimated population of stagnant students are registered in the institute.

In addition, it pointed out that the measure was a “blatant infringement of the institution’s self-governing status” and that the legislation 4009/11 [known as Diamandopoulou from the Education Secretary who established it] provides that only the institute itself is responsible for deregistering students.

Rectors speak out

Anticipating the reaction of students and families who have been surprised by the ministry’s decision, the Rectors’ Conference has suggested that the ministry extend the period, and reminded that the examination period is regarded as part of the summer semester and therefore no deregistration can take place before its completion at the end of September.

Also, students cannot be struck off without an evaluation procedure, which needs to be signed by the dean of the school – and with the best will in the world this cannot be done in the next few weeks.

It is hoped that the ministry will listen to the voice of reason and will extend the date of the measure so that ‘non-active’ students who for one reason or another have not been able to attend regularly but still wish to complete their study, are at least given a final opportunity.