Reforming education the key, says new government

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras placed emphasis on education reforms as he presented the newly elected left-wing government’s inaugural statement in parliament.

True to his pre-election promises, Tsipras reiterated his decision on the one hand to seek a better financial deal for the country that would take it out of austerity and recession; and on the other to reform all levels of education necessary for development and prosperity.

The inaugural programme and the first steps of the government have created great enthusiasm among the Greek population. Those who predicted the Prime Minister and his colleagues would be forced to perform a spectacular about-turn when faced with the realities of government were resoundingly wrong.

The government’s first priority in education is legislation to abolish management councils of universities and to bring back a number of measures abolished under the former regime. But, because introduction of new legislation would take time, Education Minister Professor Aristides Baltas said the current situation would have to remain temporarily as it was.

Access to universities

“Our immediate concern is to decide on the number of students able to enter university but we cannot do that without taking into consideration the capacities of the institutions,” Baltas said.

In doing so, he was expressing his scepticism regarding the government’s plans to permit students to enrol in tertiary education without having to pass prerequisite examinations – while also signalling he did not favour making one-sided decisions.

“We would like to give access to as many students who wish to study at a university but we have to examine carefully whether the institutions can respond to the demand,” he said.

The ministry’s approach is entirely different to that of the former government regarding so-called ‘permanent students’, who had started their studies and, for some reason or another, were not able to continue. The previous government had intended to prevent them re-enrolling by deregistering them.

“We will attempt to have personal contact with these students and discuss with them what they intend to do,” Baltas said. “We will give them ample time to decide for themselves and we will try to facilitate either their de-registration if they wish, or the continuation of their studies.”

Another subject of great concern for the government is the transfer of students to universities other than the one they first enrolled in. This year the institutions have been inundated with transfer demands, bringing their services almost to a standstill.

The current situation will have to remain as it is during the academic year 2015-16, but for subsequent years the ministry is examining a 15% transfer ratio within the total student population, Baltas said.

Consultation committee

He announced that the necessary decisions have been taken for the formation of a special committee to carry out consultations with the academic community prior to introducing new legislation.

This may take up to two years while, in the meantime, things will remain as they are – apart from interventions that have been announced and are necessary for the smooth operation of schools and universities.

The government’s immediate priority is to convince its partners in the EU to approve a financial programme that will allow Greece to put behind it the horrendous inadequacies of the austerity measures and embark on a course of development that will bring prosperity to the Greeks. It also hopes to show the way towards greater democracy as well as greater equality among Europeans.