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Universities and Politics

Written by Effie Lambropoulou on .

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Criticism of public universities in Greece has been intense recently and becomes even stronger given latest economic developments on one hand and standing commitments of the country to European institutions in the field of higher education on the other. Criticism is aboutthe social role of universities, the management of their resources and their level of performance. Underneath this criticism, lies a general debate concerning the public sector and its effectiveness in delivering services, an issue that continues to exert great attraction to the community and parties. As far as I know, in no other European country is the quality of higher education and universities in particular, so hardly disputed as it is in Greece the last fifteen years. But politicians, media and citizens criticism lacks strong arguments and relevant evidence, while poor investment in higher education and research is not taken into account.

If public universities are so inefficient, as it is stressed by the ministers in charge, then why do they keep establishing new university departments, instead of reinforcing those that already exist? If Greek universities are so devaluated, then why so many people are eager to get a job there? Sincetheydontsecureasitissaid- vocational rehabilitation for the vast majority of their graduates, then why Greek parents are so strongly desire for their children to study there? Since Greek Universities are –if this is true- in the latest rankings[1], then why Greek graduates excel when they work abroad? Finally, how can the individual evaluations of teachers -according to the 'international “or “European criteria"- be so high when our universities are so deprecated [2]?

Criticism of the “Greek University” begins few years after the implementation of the Framework Law 1282/1982, the gradual increase in the number of students entering the Universities and the continuous changes in the procedures of entrance examinations to higher education.

The framework law of 1982 and Law 1514/1985 on the "Development of scientific and technological research" boosted higher education reform, led to the establishment of new universities, departments, schools and renewed academic community with remarkably skilled teaching staff. But the speed of creation of new departments and the fact that there was no provision for  the construction of necessary infrastructure,  resulted in the settlement of new institutions to prefabricated constructions, schools, etc. The initial flourish in the field of higher education, was followed by the law 2083/1992 ("Act Souflias"), under which teaching hours were doubled. This led to an automatic proliferation of teaching subjects. Gradually, further academic departments and sectors are being established, adding new subjects in the existing curriculum. EU policy formed by the Lisbon Summit (2000), raised competitiveness as a driving force for growth and stressed the need for a high level of specialization, "so that education systems will become able to form the basis for economic growth, by capturing the dynamics of the new economy", contributing to a further increase of cognitive subjects and curriculum. Following the specialisation trend, sections broke down to departments; departments were then divided, new departments were established and so on. The various faculties or departments of regional universities were then sprawled in several different cities or islands. This was in contrast with the rational settlement of the first generation of regional universities such as University of Ioannina, Patras, Crete or the Democritus University of Thrace, where only independent faculties, e.g. Engineering and Medicine, were sited in different cities (this being rational, since there was nothing in common between them, e.g. it was not necessary to use a shared library or laboratory). What came next was that members of teaching and research staff, unhappy with their colleagues and having only to comply with formal requirements of the law (feasibility, viability and feasibility studies), established their 'own' university department, creating an additional field in the computerized form completed by candidates, thus attracting a number of students. Moreover, they “rightfully” required new faculty positions to staff the department. [3]

This practice has technical, economic, scientific and social implications. For example, at the same university, while lesson X is taught in department A, a new teacher is hired to teach the same course -or a course of the same content with similar title- in department B, and then another one is recruited to teach in department C.  Something similar may happen -though rarely- even in the same academic sector. Therefore, students of different but related departments of the same university may attend the same course, from different teachers who may even have the exact same scientific background. Somebody may think that there is nothing wrong with that. This is so to the extent that there is adequate attendance to the courses to justify so many teachers, but this is not the case. What is common is that broad participation occurs for the exams (registered course). The majority of these courses are "Required Option", ie a student must chose at least some of them to graduate. So instead of alternating teachers between semesters, in order to offer them adequate time for research and for preparing teaching in other scientific issues without the burden of delivering courses, they keep follow their solitary path.

Some universities keep increasing optional courses in order to offer the students the opportunity to study 'new movements' and more 'modern' subjects and acquire more expertise. But the usual practice is that eventually courses are artificially transformed to cognitive subjects in order to justify hiring of new teaching staff. Moreover, PD 407/1980 which provided for recruitment of contract teachers has been used extensively until recently for the occupation of new and often remarkable scientists, who were looking to acquaint teaching experience and were hoping to “buy” a permanent job at university.  These scientists worked willingly and paid with crumbs, often sharing one teaching position in two, four or even more parts. So while a cognitive subject could be approached through interdisciplinary collaboration and co-teaching from different perspectives and with multiple dimensions in the context of existing curriculum, dialogue between teachers and sector departments was (and still is) nonexistent, and the supervision of the cognitive domain remained selective. Therefore, subjects become fragmented and lose their holistic approach, since their content is an unrelated mass of repeated knowledge.

The 'old' (not outdated) courses are still taught, but typically can not include new aspects or up-to date dimensions, as new courses have been created and for which a new teacher/colleague he has been hired. Instead of enhancing flexibility of schools, departments and sectors with curriculum rotation cycles and co-teaching, in the context of notice of the alleged cognitive subject (see course), the number of courses is increased.

Teaching of the courses inclines to follow a “civil service culture”. Artificial boundaries are being created. Courses proliferate and the connection and communication between departments become more and more confused. Some members of the teaching staff, not necessarily the best, based on scientific criteria, retain the right to rarely attend courses,  leaving  the heavy work to "the 407" (number of short- term teaching staff hired to support professors),  for the need of whom several faculty members still stubbornly persist, criticizing the new law (4009/2011) that set limits. [4] At the same time, politically 'strong' and politically protected faculty members [5] of all ranks, supported by this system, change departments or universities whenever their career encounters difficulties, or whenever this offers a chance for faster evolution. Thus, most teachers are associated with a small number of students who become even less when it comes to attendance in courses because of the multitude of options.

The most capable professors, meaning those with the best temporal and or diachronical  powerful political connections, will even get the green light for the establishment of a new university, for a "pioneer", “that brings unknown’’ disciplines or thematic areas " for the first time "in Greek academic community. Moreover, everyone gets satisfied, since “people…-in other words- new professors and teaching staff will get a job, the local community will find new revenue sources, and parents will be happy that their children will have the chance to study, politician will serve their voters, etc. If in the case of Ministry of Justice applies the moto “every prefecture must have a jail”, then in the case of Ministry of Education counts for “every prefecture must have a university”. This is the policy of all governments so far.

In social sciences academic students do not attend courses, since monitoring is not mandatory, courses proliferate in conjunction with successive shorter or longer student occupations of universities or related protests, and teaching staff shows indifference (?). Meanwhile, students increasingly tend to choose courses that amuse them and not those that offer the expansion of their thinking or those that develop critical skills. Eventually the majority of students come only in the exam period, while some jostling in the cafes and the remaining portion work in irrelevant fields or jobs (see distance learning).

Even in public universities, knowledge becomes a commodity, scientific research transforms to supermarket and teachers are often “prostituted” in order to attract students. While politicians say that they are seeking to upgrade education and universities, they actually use the Universities for populist and clientelistic reasons, such as: to "stimulate the development of the region" or to assure parents/voters that the establishment of new faculties, departments or even universities will multiply their children chances to enter a University somewhere in Greece.

Pupils become students at schools that they are not really interested at, or study in disciplines with easy entry criteria and weak professional and career prospects. The connection of higher education with professional prospects is a area of long - mainly ideological- dispute, since university studies not only provide knowledge and professional expertise but generate values, opinions and attitudes about life. The more unemployment there is in the industry, the more often relevant university departments become second, third, and fourth, final choice of the candidate. The ministry of education does not dare (?) to persevere even in the base of 10/20, and so quite often students enter university departments with ranking around 3/20 or 4/20. Students, even graduate students, react to their professors’ education requirements by arguing either that they are meaningless because of the job opportunities. The moto often used by those students is: "this is not Oxford." I wonder what prevents us - besides from our ourselves -, to transform our university equal to Oxford, if we agree that Oxford is the ideal choice?

Almost all ministers tend -from time to time-  to discuss about management and other related 'reforms', ignoring the obvious problems, while associations of teachers often respond with generalities and rarely with some, albeit few, interesting proposals. Exceptions are the recent developments, especially the Law 4009/2011 regarding higher education, but again with less courage and boldness than needed. Neither professors nor students or parents ask for more prominent studies, or call for making attendance obligatory, for the increase of entry level threshold, for the extension of libraries opening hours etc. On the other hand, Mass Media are engaged in vilification of universities and the hard work done by people with many skills and recognition in adverse conditions compared with other developed countries, reproducing stereotypes, thus inviting in this public discussion Greek academics that work abroad, mainly in Great Britain. [6] Proposals suggesting that university administration must be run by academic personalities from abroad are at least animated of provincialism.

There are not a few university who send their children to study abroad, not (only) because they failed to pass the blithe, in terms of competition, exams, which is not our main concern, but because they devalue themselves on their own, concealing at the same time their responsibility.

So, it is not only the EU, which according to current criticism, aims to "transform education system in order to produce cheap and flexible workforce that continually pays for new training, disconnecting academic titles from professional occupation" etc. ., but it is also part of the training organizations and the politicians in the name of serving only their own interests, along with serving a part of students.

In this negative context public universities are devaluating. The Greek universities are not a loot for the political system, or a shelter for those who cannot find work elsewhere or are unwilling to fight, making themselves dangerous because of their insecurity. Therefore, politicians must stop being demagoguery, parents ought to  stop thinking universities as a necessary means that will ensure the best future for their children, teaching staff must find a different knowledge management, of knowledge offered, and students should take their studies for serious.

Efforts could focus on: 1) The reorganization of thematic areas, departments and schools, the restructuring of curricula, a reduction of students in overcrowded schools with graduates who have difficulty finding a job, since - among other things- relevant graduates come from the work performed in public technical institutes. 2) The best use of the existing workforce of Greek universities, including staff with high qualifications, skills and recognition of their work, considering that there are quite a few cases of burnout and stress resignation. And 3) save money on all of the above mentioned issues, but with the rational allocation of administrative staff, the increase of productivity, the expansion of working hours, the electronic support of all services, the reduction of costs generated from free books, since  only certain publishers benefit from this process, and last but not least the productive use of universities real estate  property. The context for all this can only be the implementation of a basic code of  ethics concerning all sides, as well the flexibility in the administration of the university, beyond formalism and unnecessary bureaucracy

It must be finally noted, that neither the new law nor the above mentioned new administrative structures will underpin the renaissance of Greek universities, despite several positive commented that have been stated. [7] What is needed is the realization of the current situation and problems, the will for real change and the active support from the part of the society. Otherwise we will fill sorrow for the upcoming negative events, but only when it will be too late, and there will be no way back, as usual.


[1] SeeIndicatively: Academic Ranking of World Universities (αλλιώς Shanghai ranking) (http://www.shanghairanking.com/index.html); Higher Education Evaluation and Accreditation Council of Taiwan/HEEACT (http://www.heeact.edu.tw/mp.asp?mp=4); Leiden Ranking (http://www.leidenranking.com/ranking.aspx); QS World University ranking (http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2011); Scimago Institutions Ranking (http://www.scimagoir.com/); THE World University Rankings (http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2011-2012/top-400.html); cf. International Professional Ranking of Higher Education Institutions/Paris Mines Tech (http://www.mines-paristech.fr/Actualites/PR/Ranking2011EN-Fortune2010.html); Webometrics Ranking of World Universities (http://www.webometrics.info/).

[2] See. ResearchconductedinJanuary 2011 fortheministryofEducation: «National strategy for higher education: Public University, Public Technological Institution» (http://www.minedu.gov.gr/index.php?option=com_ content&view=article&id=2200:08-02-11-ereyna-koinis-gnomis-gia-tin-anotati-ekpaideysi).

[3] Totalnumberofuniversities:  23 (2011), including Greek Open Universityand International Greek University, from which 3 (Peloponnese, Western Macedonia, Central Greece) were established later than 2000.

[4] http://www.aueb.gr/pages/news/attachments/1174_a.pdf.

[5] See PRO INNO Europe (14.02.2009). «Greek universities: evaluation results».

[6] Indicativelyfortheeducational policy of G. Britain, βλ. Hillyard, P., Sim, J, Tombs, S., & Whyte, D. (2004). «Leaving a ‘Stain upon the Silence’: Contemporary Criminology and the Politics of Dissent», στο: British Journal of Criminology 44(3), 369-390.

[7]  SeeΝ.Μ. Stavrakaki, 22.07.2012 «Μετά παρρησίας τολμάν»,  articleinKathimerini, σελ. 10.

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