Can Greece reform? Higher education is a test case

Nikos Vettas argues that the delay in implementing the new law for the Greek Universities is extremely problematic. Not only because of the urgent need for improvement in the Education System itself, but also because it sends the wrong signal for the possibility of implementing any real reform in Greece.  In a recent article in Kathimerini, Vettas argues that a well functioning education system is key not only for economic growth but also for social justice and true democracy. The new law, adopted a few months ago by a very large parliamentary majority is certainly not perfect (see, for example, an alternative proposal submitted by Vettas in February 2011 during the relevant public consultation). However, it fixes many of the problems of the old regime and offers reasons for hope.

The Greek Universities in the last few decades have generally operated well below the level where they could and should be.  The blame for this should fall mainly on the State which has treated universities essentially as subsidiaries of the Education Ministry rather than as independent and accountable education and research units.  The governance structure allowed partisan student groups to play a dominant role, often supported by and supporting faculty members who were unable or unwilling to produce academic work.

The new law, adapted a few months ago by a very large parliamentary majority is certainly not perfect. However, it fixes many of the problems of the old regime and offers reasons for hope: it makes the election of the key university administrators no longer dependent on the partisan student groups; it allows for more independence; further, each unit will be accountable and subject to formal evaluation; and it facilitates the interaction with universities and academics from abroad. In fact, this law was one of the very few examples during the current crisis of an attempted structural reform, and not simply another example of legislation implemented fiscal austerity.

It was fully expected that the partisan students and other parties whose interests are harmed groups are reacting to the new law. It is a bit more surprising that parts of the political system, even if they have nominally supported this law, are now not supporting its implementation, and are instead hiding behind the violent actions of small groups. This is quite unfortunate: Greece cannot exit the current deep crisis simply by doing less of what has been doing in the last decades – it has to be reformed, in a genuinely progressive direction.  Improving the quality of the education system has to be one of the key starting points, not only for the impact it can have on economic growth but also as a way to alleviate social inequalities.

About N_Vettas

Athens University of Economics and Business

This entry was posted in Education. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply