More university places for the lower classes

More than 3,600 additional university places are to be added to last year’s 74,692, bringing the total number of places in Greece for the 2019-20 academic year starting in October to 78,335 places available to more than 100,000 school leavers, the education ministry announced.

The number is the highest since 2010, when austerity measures were imposed on Greece by its European Union partners, as a result of which gross national product was reduced by more than 30% and university places dropped as low as just over 68,000 – still a far cry from the period before that when the new entrant university population was well over 85,000 students.

The increase in available seats will obviously give greater opportunity to a larger number of candidates – particularly from working class areas and underprivileged sections of the population – to enter further education.

The allocation of the places appears to be carefully controlled.

Highly regarded and sought-after medical, legal and technological departments, normally filled by well-off middle-class students, will not receive additional seats, thereby retaining their prestige and keeping the competition for available places very high indeed.

On the other end of the spectrum, the entire increase will be allocated to popular areas of study such as shipping, business management, fiscal and financial studies, accounting and economics.

These qualifications lead to professions that are increasingly in demand in the labour market and can potentially contribute substantially to much-needed development and modernisation of Greece. Consequently, they are attracting strong interest from candidates.

The announcement was welcomed by many sections of the community. But coming as it did shortly before the European elections, it was denounced by the Opposition. It was not enough to save the government from a crushing defeat at the ballot box on 26 May – by more than nine percentage points.

If this result is repeated in the general election announced by the prime minister for 7 July, then an incoming conservative government would likely change these provisions, put forward a more favourable programme for prestige academic departments, establish private universities and quite possibly reduce the level of funding to state universities.