International Educator - May/June 2012 - 59
Greek Students’ Futures at Stake
For many students, their educational worlds and future hopes appear to be collapsing around them. Froso Doutsi, 23, is one of Markou’s best students and will graduate this summer with a bachelor’s degree in computational biology. Plans for obtaining a master’s degree in bioengineering or nanotechnology and then perhaps a doctorate were in the works for after graduation. Now she is not sure. “Now, I think that the budget I’d spend for education, maybe we’ll need for my family to live, so I won’t have the chance to go abroad to study,” says Doutsi, who hails from Naousa, 300 km north of Lamia. “They can still afford to support my current studies, but they may not be able to support any post-graduate education. My father is retired and my mother works in a shop. I teach piano lessons at a local music school, but what I earn is not enough to support myself.” Then there is research. Markou says he is fortunate that he is a theoretician and needs little more than a white board and markers; colleagues who need laboratory or other resources face far greater challenges in the current environment of cutbacks, he says. Still, he says being an effective academic requires interacting with colleagues in other countries and that is becoming markedly more difficult. In the past, faculty received €2,000 to €3,000 per year to cover the expense of travel to academic conferences and to visit colleagues. That is now gone. Markou says, through his own vigorous efforts in 2011, he obtained grants to visit Slovakia, France, and Canada. Yet to fund the trips, he still had to pay out of pocket more than €1,000. The future does not inspire hope, he says. With further austerity measures being insisted upon by International Monetary Fund and European bodies that will likely be passed down to Greek institutions and the possibility of governmental defaults, he, like many Greek academics, is not optimistic. “I’m afraid things will get worse,” he says. Markou says that he has reluctantly reached a decision that, in spite of his commitment to Greek society and Greek higher education, it would be best to secure work abroad. “People here say you should stay and try to help from inside—but the same people ask you how to find ways to get their money out of Greece,” says Markou, who has been looking in France and Canada for permanent positions since October. “It’s tragic and a paradox. Sometimes I feel if you want to help yourself and reach the maximum of what you can produce and help the country, maybe the best thing to do is to go outside your country right now. Helping Greece is not just protesting; it’s working. If I can’t work effectively as an academic, I can’t help Greece.”
Some Academic Departments Better Oﬀ
a particularly strong one, ranked since 2010 in the top 100 among computer science departments by the Academic Ranking of World Universities, and boasting three European Research Council Starting Grant recipients of “perhaps 15 in the country.”
It must be said that while Greek academic salary and university cuts were national in scope, some academics and programs are faring better than others. “They are hiring one person for every 10 retired here, and other departments, such as math and physics, are going down in numbers as people retire, but we are gifted in that over the past few years, computer science was exploding and the state put a lot of emphasis into it,” says Ioannis Emiris, a professor of computer science at the University of Athens, the second largest university in Greece. Emiris notes his department also benefits from being
Adding to the difficulties of Greek higher education are structural differences that have traditionally set it apart from the rest of Europe and, many say, have helped hold it back. Unlike most European countries, no private universities are officially sanctioned by the government in Greece. In addition, undergraduate education is free of charge. Those two factors lead to extreme exposure to governmental funding. And until recent reforms, students have had a strong role in making or vetoing academic and administrative changes on campus, and police could not enter university campuses, a reaction to the dictatorship that ran the government from 1967 through 1974. In sum, Greek public universities lack autonomy from the government, face a noncompetitive environment, and lack independent evaluation of staff, says Alexis Phylactopoulos, president of College Year in Athens, a study abroad program. Many view as good news that despite the fiscal pain, or perhaps in part because of it, the Greek legislature in August 2011 overwhelmingly passed historic legislation making fundamental changes in the higher education system. The law, yet to be widely implemented, would radically change university governance by attempting to remove political influence and aligning Greek education with European norms. Each university would be responsible for its own budget and would appoint a governing council with 15 members, including six from outside the university and no more than one student representative, who would help choose the university’s rector. The law would institute tighter controls on the funding of individual institutions. Good performance would be rewarded with incentives for universities achieving good results in factors such as the ratio of graduates to applicants, research excellence, and international recognition. The law would also introduce assessment of teaching staff every five years, with a professor from abroad included in the assessment committee. Many schools, departments, and universities could be merged or completely abolished, a dramatic reversal from the past expansionist platform of certain political parties. And the legislation eliminates the sanctuary status of the universities, allowing police to intervene to evict students who are occupying institutions. The law also hopes to involve private companies in connecting universities to the marketplace and in drawing and managing new funding for education.
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