English-taught short courses help to build global bridges

The higher education sector in Greece is increasing the number of English-taught short-term higher education courses that operate in collaboration with foreign universities.

According to Christos Michalakelis, co-founder and president of Study in Greece (SiG), the official organisation promoting internationalisation within Greek higher education, short-term courses yielding student academic credits, are a stepping stone “towards internationalising Greek universities”.

This is a key priority of the Greek government and its Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, underpinned by new legislation (law 4957/2022) published in the Greek Government Gazette in July 2022.

This new legislation provides incentives to boost foreign exchanges and recruit overseas students and academics, such as awarding degrees in coordination with foreign universities and staging winter and summer short courses. It also removes obstacles to internationalisation by easing bureaucratic controls impeding cooperative initiatives with foreign colleges and universities.

This article is part of a series on Internationalising HE in Greece published by University World News in partnership with Study in Greece. University World News is solely responsible for the editorial content.

Other measures include formally linking short-term courses to the overall performance of each university in government assessments made by the Hellenic Authority for Higher Education, affecting the grants they receive, explained Michalakelis and Theodoros Papaioannou, the SiG’s director of academic affairs.

International academic synergies

There has also been support for the development of short courses from the ministry of foreign affairs which, SiG executives said, has helped in “creating bridges” with the international academic community by spreading the word that international academic synergies and opportunities are increasingly flourishing in Greece.

A short-term two-week course on migration and refugee studies opened this summer at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA). Joined by 15 students from Harvard University in the United States and another 15 international and Greek students, it is one example of a course encouraged by these efforts.

Maria Gavouneli, NKUA professor of international law and director of the university's refugee and migration studies hub, said: “We want to bring Harvard to Greece and not the other way around.”

The short-term course took place in Athens, with active support from Harvard and was promoted by Study in Greece. Students were, for example, able to visit the Aegean island of Lesbos, a key access point for refugees fleeing Asia – just 10km from the Turkish coast – to engage in a real-time experience of maritime “refugees arrivals” working with local authorities, such as the coast guard.

Two of those students have already expressed an interest in studying a full degree in Greece, as a result.

“Greece has been since 2015 – when the [Syrian] refugee crisis erupted – the main point of entry for people seeking asylum in the EU, a fact that allows an in-depth examination of migration,” said Gavouneli. The NKUA has been promoting an understanding of people movements through the creation of the Refugee and Migration Studies Hub in 2021, seeking to fill research gaps regarding refugee and migration flows.

Another new short course covers a similar topic. Run by Goldsmiths College, University of London, UK, working with academics from Greece’s University of Macedonia, Harokopio University (Athens) and the Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences (Athens) – with help from Study in Greece – the course explores human rights, democracy and the refugee crisis.

Co-organiser Dimitris Giannoulopoulos, head of Goldsmiths’ department of law, said that 11 students studied the triangular relationship regarding these issues between the European Union (EU), the UK and Greece through a cross-disciplinary perspective by studying Brexit, Grexit (the unlikely withdrawal of Greece from the EU), European law and migration law.

All the students attending this course were funded via scholarships from Goldsmiths, said Giannoulopoulos: “Goldsmiths believed in this initiative and SiG helped us not only to deal with the administrative and organising tasks, but also to adapt the modules to the Greek reality.”

Kelly Polychroniou, head of the Modern Greek programme at Boston University in the US, co-created a summer course, ‘Voyage into Greek civilisation’, resulting from collaboration between Boston’s department of classical studies and the NKUA’s archaeology, history and literature of Ancient Greece BA programme.

Direct communication

Here, 15 Boston students came to Greece and “SiG assisted in pretty much everything”, she said, praising the organisation for creating a direct form of communication between international institutes “to establish joint [Greece-foreign university] or English language-taught short-term or long-term programmes”.

Private initiatives to organise academic cooperation have also been succeeding. For instance, the American College of Greece, based in Athens, has been delivering shorter-term overseas courses.

Meanwhile, speaking to University World News, Georgios Steiris, an NKUA philosophy professor, related how he has been involved in a short course run by the NKUA on ancient cities, empires and the modern world, taught to 12 students from the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani, located in Sulaymaniyah, Kurdish Iraq.

Steiris worked with academics from Goldsmiths, the Medici Archive Project in Florence, Italy, and Charles University in Prague to develop and run the course. While he stressed this course had not been designed specifically for Kurdish students, the University of Sulaimani had approached NKUA and offered to join forces.

Consequently, Iraqi Kurdish students have explored the history of political theories and the journey of democracy through time via this course.

Participating student Zagros Farhad Mahmood said: “We saw many monumental places that we had only heard about or read in books. We visited the roots of where Western civilisation began, a fact that might sound romantic but is indeed an experience itself. I really hope that the university will organise more courses so that my classmates in Iraq can also take part.

“Personally, I will search for a masters programme in Greece and I am planning to apply after my graduation.”

Challenging estimations of academic quality

Steiris said such comments show how short courses can enable Greece’s higher education institutions to overcome the past underestimation of Greek academic quality.

He stressed the importance of studying political science in Greece due to its history, a fact that, as he describes, helps build Greece's reputation for internationally-relevant study: “Short-term courses play a crucial role in this as many students prior to coming to Greece have inhibitions which they overcome upon their arrival.”

The SiG’s Michalakelis and Papaioannou told University World News that short-term courses are, indeed, an easier and cheaper way for students to experience studying in Greece, encouraging them to apply for longer-term courses.

According to Michalakelis, students are more likely to spend two weeks or so in Greece, initially, rather than moving straight to the country for a long-term course, which is, of course, more expensive.

From the perspective of Greek higher education institutions, organising short-term courses is a key way to present joint degrees and English-taught long-term courses to attract potential students, said Michalakelis.

“By creating short-term courses, universities are able to observe and test the demand, in order to decide whether they need to spend more grants and create more English-taught long-term programmes.”

He added that SiG’s existing collaboration with Greek universities hosting English-taught long-term programmes, such as NKUA’s archaeology BA, has been encouraged by these universities’ support for the potential of short-term programmes to attract international students.

The Centre for Education and Lifelong Learning of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki has done the same for all its degree courses by staging English language summer courses, such as one on patient autonomy and legal, medical and ethical considerations.

Additionally, the Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB) has successfully organised an International Summer School on Digital Business, in collaboration with the Michigan State University Eli Broad College of Business. It took place in Athens and the island of Syros, focusing on digital business.

Positive evaluation by participants

The AEUB vice-rector of international cooperation and growth Professor Vasilios Papadakis said: “The overwhelmingly positive evaluation of the summer programme by its participants is the best guarantee that this new collaboration between AUEB and a leading US university has the prospect of developing into a successful long-term partnership.”

Other summer courses offered by Greek universities, albeit in Greek, include geo-economy and inclusive growth at the University of the Aegean (which has campuses in Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Rhodes, Syros and Lemnos), and a summer course on dementia (for medical students) offered in Greek by the University of Crete.

Paraskevi Paparseniou and Alexandra Mikroulea, NKUA law professors, and Fyllina Saranti, a master of law graduate, taught in a summer course on digitalisation and institutions at their Athens university under the European Law School Network (ELS).

The ELS is an academic initiative that enables collaboration between renowned European law schools such as those of Humboldt University of Berlin, Panthéon-Assas University in Paris, King's College London, Sapienza University of Rome, the University of Amsterdam, the Catholic University of Portugal law school, the Autonomous University of Madrid and the NKUA.

The ELS initiative helps law school students to study in any participating institution, and with a single application the student can study at two European universities. Students apply to their home university for admission to the ELS Network LLM programme, which includes help accessing shorter courses.

The digitalisation and institutions course examined digitisation and other communication technology developments in the private and public sector: “Many students started considering joining one of the offered [NKUA] postgraduate programmes as soon as they attended this summer programme.

“Others had already made their decision to stay for studies in Athens and this summer school confirmed and strengthened their choice,” said Paparseniou.

“Programmes with a short duration are regarded as the most effective bridge between the Greek and international academic communities.

“It's a clever way to promote Greek institutions by showcasing the country’s tangible and intangible cultural assets. What student would not want to visit Greece, during the summer especially, to combine their studies with tourism?” asked Michalakelis.