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Greek universities: when austerity threatens recuperation

Austerity has been the recipe of European Commission to get out of the crisis. Even when it is true that the drastic reduction of income made impossible for most governments to keep the expenses at the level of the years before 2008, this is a dangerous strategy if kept for too long. Austerity is a temporary solution to adjust to a new situation and cannot compromise fields of the economy that should contribute to the future growth, which is the long term exit to the crisis.

Some of these sectors are obvious: education, science and research, which are at the roots of the 2020 strategy and the transition to a knowledge-based economy. However, some countries’ policies seem not to understand the same.

Last week, MEP Nikos Chrysogelos and MEP Rebecca Harms hosted a Round Table Discussion with rectors of some of the biggest universities in Greece. They wanted to present to the European Parliament a call for support, since the Greek government policy of cuts has reached a point when the next measures will suffocate them. After cuts in funding and non-replacement of staff, university has already contributed already to austerity enormously. But the policy of mobility in the public sector threatens now to force them to inactivity by depriving the universities of  the staff they need to keep security in the campuses, keep their laboratories open and running, attend the students in secretaries, manage the whole paperwork of the different faculties…

In spite of the crisis, the Greek universities have managed to keep their good position in the rankings of universities but this will change if the Greek government does not step back from their intentions of transferring (based on supposed redundancies) up to 40% of the staff of some of the big 8 universities. Institutions like the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens will lose 498 out of 1.316 admin staff. Others will not do much better: National Technical University of Athens (339 out of 882), Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (169 out of 747), University of Crete (49 out of 363), University of Patras (118 out of 442), University of Ioaninna (42 out of 288), University of Thessaly (33 out of 302) and Athens University and Economics and Business (35 out of 190). The ratio of administrative staff per student is already quite low in Greece (3,6 per 100 active students) when compared with other countries (in Germany is 11,5 per 100), therefore the implementation of this reform would paralize the activity of the universities.

Rectors claim that these cuts will make it impossible for Greek Universities to contribute to the European-funded projects they are now working at, which will lead to losses of funding and further worsening of the situation.

Moreover, rectors denounce is the fact that this measure is sold to the general public as an imposition coming from the European institutions, when the truth is that they are not included in the memorandum signed between Greece and the international lenders (the Troika). This is once more an example on how governments use Europe as a scapegoat to deny their responsibility in unpopular measures.

The rectors communicate that the Greek Government has never engaged with them in a direct negotiation, in opposition to what happened in other countries where the crisis has forced cuts in the public sector. Even worse, the Government refuses to clarify the methodology used to calculate the redundancies and the needs of each university, while the studies that universities have conducted show that they are already understaffed.

The rector from the Aegeean University of Athens, Paris Tsarkas, fears that behind this strategy may exist an interest to weaken the public universities in Greece, seen as a focus of opposition to the government policy, and suspects a hidden agenda to create favourable conditions to transfer students from public to private universities. This situation reminds very much the direction of other conservative governments such as Spain which face nowadays protests caused by the same kind of measures.

Since the European Parliament proved again this week that for them austerity cannot cut future opportunities for growth, we hope that they answer the call for support from the Greek Rectors’ Conference and avoid this unjustifiable attack to the Greek Universities.

You can read more about the Round Table Discussion in this article from www.worlduniversitynews.com.

Written by Miguel Gallardo, Projects Director AEGEE-Europe