What does austerity mean for Greek universities?

Kostas Skordoulis, a Professor of Physics and Epistomology at Athens University was so kind to write a detailed response to the question ‘What does austerity mean for Greek universities?’

(Original by the Education Activist Network)

Austerity has hit Greek universities in many ways: University budgets (excluding salaries) have been slashed by more than 50%, leading to serious problems (lack of heating, lack of funding for basic needs). Funding for adjunct faculty has been reduced by almost 70% leading to hundreds of lay-offs. Several hundred elected faculty members have been waiting, in some cases even for 2 years, for their official appointment. All these have led to serious teaching personnel shortages.

Under the terms of the Loan Agreement, university lecturers’ salaries have been reduced by nearly 35% and are going to be further reduced, despite the fact that they are already extremely low (university lecturers and assistant professors do not receive more than 1100-1400 euros per month after taxes and social security contributions).

Greek Universities have been under attack for the past 2 years in what concerns their institutional structure, management and funding. This is another aspect of the devastation brought upon Greek society by aggressive neoliberal policies.

Greek Universities have to deal with a new reactionary legislation aiming at their neoliberal restructuring. In September 2011, the Greek Parliament passed the Law 4009/2011. This new Law, another attempt toward conformity with ‘Bologna Process’ requirements, severely jeopardizes university autonomy by taking power from the Senates – (representative bodies of university teachers, students and other employees) – towards ‘University Councils’, a hybrid body consisting of university professors and ‘representatives of the society’, in reality representatives from the business world.

Moreover, it includes a total overhaul of universities, in which departments will be turned into simple ‘study programs’ incorporated into larger schools, overturning the policy of the last 30 years, which had the Department as the main academic unit. This will accelerate the move towards the replacement of university degrees with individualized ‘qualification portfolios’ increasing inequalities among students.

Regarding university funding, the new law is full with references to the need for universities looking for funding in the business sector.

This new law is in line with recent reforms in most European countries and follows the pattern of ‘university reform’ suggested by the EU and OECD. It is tailored to the needs of the current austerity packages imposed by the EU-IMF-ECB. It opens the way for a wave of department and even university mergers and closures, in the name of ‘efficiency’, ‘performance’ and ‘viability’.

Higher Education in Greece faces the danger of shrinkage: fewer departments, students, and lecturers.

This law has been voted in Parliament by MP’s of the Conservatives (New Democracy), the Social-Democrats (PASOK) and national populists (LAOS) with a 2/3 majority despite the opposition by student unions, who staged a 4-week strike and occupations, by local University teachers Unions and the majority of University Senates and the National University Rectors Congress. An important factor in this struggle was that the pro-government majority of our national University Teachers Union (POSDEP) openly supported the law.

The local University teachers Unions established a national coordination committee to coordinate opposition to the law from below.

The Coordination Committee effectively mobilized students and university staff and so up to now the new law has not been implemented at the universities. This is a partial but very important victory for the our movement.

This victory has been met with a wave of repression by the state authorities. State attorneys have been calling activists and trade-unionists from our Unions in court to be tried for “disobedience” to state law. We are at a stage where solidarity actions (mobilizations, petitions, etc) are organized in order to support our colleagues. The support of students and also of other social groups fighting against the austerity and the neoliberal policies are crucial.

It has to be noted, that the Greek Ministry of Education has been financially blackmailing universities into implementing the new law. Since the new ‘University Councils’ have not been established, due to the mobilization of students and teachers, the Ministry decided that full release of 2012 funding will be conditional upon Universities’ establishing these Councils!

In March, after a minor government restructuring, the new Minister for Education – himself a former rector of the University of Athens with conservative credentials – suggested the full release of funding and the opening of a dialogue for possible changes to the law. However, after an uproar by pro-austerity media and leading representatives of the government, the release of funding was postponed.

This March universities were in for another painful surprise. As all other Greek public sector institutions were obliged to deposit part of their public funding to the Bank of Greece. These obligatory deposits were ‘invested’ by the Bank of Greece in Greek government bonds. With the restructuring of the Greek debt, the real value of these deposits was reduced by more than 60%, leading to an important extra loss of funds. Universities are currently on the brink of financial collapse.

Fortunately, greek universities have a long tradition of student and teaching staff struggle. There is a long history of victorious struggles. The last example has been the reversal in 2007 of a constitutional amendment that would have opened the way for private Higher Education. That is why the new law is far from being successfully implemented. Struggle, solidarity and unity between teachers and students are the only ways to answer the current attacks on Higher Education in Greece.

What you can do?

  • Twin with a Greek university/Students’ Union etc – Model Motion
  • call solidarity demonstrations on campuses on strike days
  • solidarity collections

Please let us know about any activity you are planning to do

For more articles, information and videos on Greek student and lecturer struggles click on the links below:

Costa Todoulos – Occupations hit Greece before term starts (Sept 11)

Remembering the Polytechnic Uprising of 1973 (Video)

Greece: Waves from the student struggle (International Socialism)

Neo-Nazis storm university and injure students (Occupied London Blog)

Greece – Fighting neoliberal university reform (International Viewpoint)

Turkish demonstrators show solidarity with Greek students (Video)

Greek students repeat 1973 Uprising motto (Video)

Scuffles as students protest in Athens (Video)

8 thoughts on “What does austerity mean for Greek universities?

  1. Pingback: Griekenland: de universiteiten storten in | Jan Blommaert (en z'n gedachten)

Comments are closed.