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  • 3 day ultimatum in Greek HE tragedy

    - Greece desperately tries to modernize its HE sector, but faces massive opposition from university rectors. Only 2 out of 60 universities took measures to implement the recent HE reform. Now, the government set an ultimatum: if rectors do not comply within 3 days, all public funding is cut.

    Greek universities and researchers are facing major reforms. Sweeping governance changes will require higher education institutions to install new governing councils that are independently in charge of university budgets.

    Autonomy, mergers, competition - the EU approach

    Such greater autonomy should be in the interest of rectors. Their main concern, however, is that the governing councils must consist of 15 members of which 6 have to come from outside the university. Only one council member would be a student representative, while the board as a whole is in charge of proposing future rectors to be elected by all faculty members.

    In addition to that, the government plans to merge smaller research institutes and universities to increase their international competitiveness and counter fragmentation. Barriers between organization in general are to be torn down to make it easier for scientists to move back and forth.

    These changes are part of a bigger reform package that is designed to standardize Greek's higher education system according to EU norms. Internal processes are depoliticized while greater transparency and competition is created.

    Especially universities mergers have gained great popularity all over Europe. In Sweden, 3 top institutes merged into one organization catering to 70.000 students. Similarly, the Dutch Erasmus University Rotterdam, Leiden University and TU Delft intend to fuse their capacities. In France, Sarkozy employs a carrot and stick approach to have universities merge while giving them greater autonomy.

    Rectors revolt, government sets ultimatum

    Despite seemingly good intentions, the Greek government's initiative has encountered massive resistance by students and university rectors. Yiannis Mylopoulos, rector at the renowned Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, commented that the new law was an "inexplicable attack aimed at lowering the prestige [of Greek universities]. It violates Article 16 of the Constitution, which states that universities are state institutions and have their own governing bodies, and it opens the way for the privatization of higher education."

    At first, lecturers and professor opposed the higher education bill as well. Within the past couple of months, however, this opposition turned into wide-ranging support as talks between government officials and university rectors have reached a dead end. Even though the reform bill was officially signed into law last year August, only 2 out of 60 Greek universities have taken measures to implement it until now.

    The government has now threatened that it would cut all public financing of universities if they continued to oppose the reform. The ultimatum was set for January 15, three days from now. Meanwhile, the university rectors have launched a lawsuit which is to be heard on February 3 at the Council of State, the Supreme Administrative Court of Greece.