Reforming Higher Education: Three Pillars

JULY-AUG 2011|BY RAYMONT MATERA
Few reforms are as important as the major changes in higher education presented by Minister of Education Anna Diamantopoulou at a recent Cabinet meeting. Business Partners offers insight.

The proposal aims to bring Greek universities (and technological institutions) at the forefront of higher education internationally.

Today, when knowledge has no borders, higher education has undergone essential changes to improve studies, teaching and research, to find creative new paths that link higher education with employment and to manage limited resources efficiently and effectively. Such initiatives promote innovation and create a knowledge-based society and economy as a strategic policy choice.

In line with similar reforms in place throughout the EU, Greek reform aims to provide universities with autonomy and emancipation from central government so they may flourish in an increasingly competitive international academic and research environment.

The proposals introduce a new institutional framework based on the principles of self-government, autonomy and goal setting, and aim to ensure stringent evaluation procedures, highlighting the importance of academic excellence and promoting accountability on all levels.

The three main pillars of change are 1) a new administrative model, 2) flexible, interdisciplinary courses of study, and 3) the internationalization of the often inward-looking Greek universities.

The basic principles of change are:

  • The self-government of higher education institutions
  • Public funding and its distribution based on qualitative and qualitative criteria and national priorities
  • A culture of constant evaluation and social accountability
  • The aim of ever-increasing quality of studies for every student
  • A modern and efficient administration
  • Scientific excellence at the international level
  • The internationalization of universities’ operation
  • Opening universities up to society and the economy as a response to the major social changes brought by globalization, while at the same time addressing local needs

These principles are recognized internationally and by many Greek academics as well. But Greek universities have not been able to endorse them. One reason lies in the administration model of the Greek public university. Notable is that there is a constitutional stipulation which expressly forbids private universities. Article 16 of the Greek Constitution is one of the most controversial, and most cherished, constitutional obligations of the Greek polity.

To date, the selection of the university Dean is made through direct elections, with the participation of the entire university community. Students provide a 40% share of the vote and even university non-academic staff reflect 10%. This has led to a politicized administration with little to no evaluation, accountability or transparency.

The reform proposal focuses on adopting a dual system, which includes a Council and a Principal. The Council consists of internal and external members, which will focus on oversight of administrative actions and assume responsibility for the final approval of the strategic development plan. The Principal (like a Dean or a Vice-Chancellor) will be in charge of the daily administrative running of the institution and in charge of academic matters in close cooperation with the university’s senate: i.e. a system of internal checks and balances.

The second important pillar of change relates to programs of study. Today, Greek university departments are virtually islands, with very little interplay between departments, and even less movement of people. In fact, interdisciplinary approaches to learning and flexibility along the way are essential elements.

Finally, Greek universities are opening up to the world. They are to be liberated to join forces with others, to create international programs that attract foreign students, and to attract additional funding from alumni and other benefactors.

The reform proposal promises to be controversial. Already, there are many critical voices resisting change and a lively debate is taking place. At the end of the day, however, Greek universities will become stronger, more intellectually vigorous, and more socially responsive.

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