This is an article from University World News, an online publication that covers global higher education. It is presented here under an agreement with The Chronicle.
For the first time in its peacetime history, the gates of the University of Athens – established in 1837 by Otto of Bavaria, the first king of Greece after the 1821 revolution – will remain closed. The institution recently declared its inability to continue operating as a result of government policies that have led to "the subversion and marginalization of higher education." At least seven other major Greek universities have subsequently closed.
They are the National Technical University of Athens, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, the universities of Patras, Crete, Ioannina and Thessaly, and the Athens University of Economics and Business. The institutions have suspended their operations and are considering legal action against the Greek government.
The universities are protesting the government’s decision to reduce their administrative staff by nearly 50 percent or 1,349 personnel – librarians, secretaries, computer and telephone operators, translators, accounts and security staff, as well as a variety of technicians. They say that the lack of staff will render operation impossible.
A number of services at the University of Athens and the other institutions, such as student registration, organization of examinations, administering of oaths to degree holders, academic and social activities and international obligations and partnerships, cannot be carried out for lack of trained staff.
Devastating Cuts to Staff
In an open letter to Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the rector of the University of Athens Professor Theodosis Pelegrinis stated:
“The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens is going through its greatest and most dangerous crisis since its foundation, due to its inability to operate in future as a teaching and research center; offer high-quality studies; complete research programs; and [being] forced to curtail the provision of medical services and training to students in a number of university clinics.”
Pelegrinis pointed out that the university was obliged to support – with staff – eight large libraries, 174 laboratories, 18 museums, and 66 university clinics established within the largest hospitals in the greater Athens area with an annual state profit of more than €30 million (US$41 million).
Athens University and the National Technical University of Athens, two of the country’s oldest institutions, will each have nearly 400 staff suspended and in due course made redundant – nearly 50 percent of their entire staff – while the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki will lose 169 staff, the University of Patras 118 and the other institutions similar proportions of staff.
The university cuts are part of the government’s plan to place 12,500 civil servants on a "mobility scheme," which means that they will receive 75 percent of their salaries for one year and will then be made redundant.
In many cases university managements have been asked for cuts in departments where they did not appear to have any available staff.
No cuts will be made in Pandeio University of Athens and the University of Piraeus, where apparently quite by coincidence the education secretary and the secretary general of the Education Ministry are on the teaching staff.
Administrative staff and in many cases the teaching staff supporting their claims are on five-day rolling strikes while the senate committees of universities insisted on closing the institutions, claiming the inability to function without expert staff.
While the rectors of universities are appealing to the State Council against the decision of the education secretary, he is taking legal action against the rectors for dereliction of duty and failing to take “necessary measures to ensure the smooth operation of the institutions.”
The dispute has provoked reactions from several former rectors of the University of Athens, who in a joint statement said the university should remain open in order to carry out its many functions – although they recognized that apportioning the number of administrative staff into the mobility scheme was not carried out in a “clear and objective manner."
They appealed to the education secretary to allow a period of three months to implement the measure, and called on institutions to carry out “an assessment of the administrative staff not from a typical or social consideration but with clear criteria of real contribution to the administrative operation of the university.”
This statement, if not rejected by the education secretary and the institutions – which claim that they have a need to increase and not reduce staff – is likely to provoke a reaction from trade unions representing administrative staff, since it implies that there are staff members who are not doing their jobs properly or are not necessary.
Into the fray jumped a large number of Greek academics who are teaching in British universities.
They stated that the closure of universities would probably have immeasurable consequences for teaching, research, and clinical work as well as international cooperation. The threat to higher education resulting from the sharp measures was a cause for concern beyond Greece’s borders.
The academics abroad called on the Greek government and the European Union to protect Greek universities because “they are and should remain a beacon of critical thought in a Europe where social structures have been undermined by successive massive cuts and over which the dark shadow of the extreme right is rising dangerously.”
Cynics will claim that this is all very well, but the EU – with Germany at the forefront – and the Greek government have made up their minds to put everything valuable in the country up for sale – education, health, transport, natural resources, islands, water, ports, and airports.
Then private interests will be able to buy these valuable sectors and exploit them with the help of low salaries and practically non-existent worker rights, in line with prevailing neo-liberal policies.
Already so-called colleges – post-secondary education organizations – are flexing their muscles, ready to exploit opportunities offered by the systematic marginalisation of state universities.
The president of the Greek Colleges Association Kostantinos Karkanias has suggested that members forge mergers and improve their building and programs in order to create private higher-education institutions.
“Deliberately, I do not use the term ‘private university,’ until such time as it is allowed by the Greek constitution,” he said.
And Karkanias concluded in a statement: “The time of private schools of tertiary education is very close, not because we ask for it but because not only in Europe but in many countries in the rest of the world it is allowed.”have shut their dorr