Thursday, 21 November 2013

A nation without education is a suicidal one

 
 
The two most important universities in Greece have effectively been shut since September. The administrative staff layoffs decided by the government under pressure from the troika, will severely affect the safety of University campuses and the basic functioning of libraries and laboratories. Students will be unable to study, save for the wealthy who will study abroad.
Just two days after the 40th anniversary of the Polytechnic (in a way, the Greek equivalent of Northern Ireland’s Bloody Sunday) - a commemoration of the murders committed by the junta in November 17, 1973, when soldiers in tanks were ordered to kill people occupying the headquarters of the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), the mood of many teachers and researchers in Greek universities has plunged in new depths of despair. The reason is the imminent wave of layoffs of administrative staff members that have triggered strikes and closures at several universities.

National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA) and NTUA are effectively shut down for ten weeks (since September 9) with no visible way out. Thousands of students are affected since the resit exams of September have not taken place, the first year undergraduate students have not enrolled and practically all teaching and research activities are on hold in the two most influential Universities of Greece.

International lenders have demanded widespread public sector job cuts, including in universities, in return for bailout loans to bolster the shattered Greek economy. Administrative staff at affected universities have retaliated by going on strike.

Before the recent layoffs, universities were already understaffed, underfunded and grappling with salary cuts. This downward spiral is going on and on; the morale of colleagues is shattered.

Greece has been put under pressure by the EU, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank to cut government spending. The Greek government has pledged by the end of the year to cut 4,000 public sector positions. An additional 25,000 civil servants, including university administrators, have lost their jobs but were placed into a strategic reserve by menas of the so-called ‘mobility scheme’. Each worker is guaranteed a reduced salary until the end of the year while they seek other government jobs. If they are unable to find new jobs, they are officially discharged.

However, Greece needs education and strong universities to face the fiscal crisis and to educate and train the young people. In fact, however, we are doing the opposite. We are committing suicide in an experiment of massive scale. The administrative staff layoffs will severely disrupt everyday office functions in various university departments, which will have a negative impact on teaching and research. Most university teachers and researchers feel the Greek government should do more to protect the institutions from the demands of the international lenders. There is huge disappointment and discomfort about the way the Greek government is handling this.
The University of Athens, which has about 65,700 students, lost 498 administrative staff members to layoffs, or 37% of the total, leaving only 839 non-teaching staff positions untouched.

Claims by the Greek government that Greek universities are overstaffed and can still function properly after the layoffs are simply untrue: It is evident by our statistics that compare student-to-staff ratios of the University of Athens with UK university data provided by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

While the UK had 12.68 students in 2011–12 for each non-teaching staff member, since the layoffs the University of Athens has 78.29 students for each non-teaching staff member.

No faculty members have been laid off at the University of Athens. However, over the past four years, very few faculty members who have retired have been replaced. As of the beginning of September, the Chemistry department in NKUA had 50 faculty members for about 900 students compared with 75 faculty members five years ago. The ratio of teachers to students at the University of Athens is 33.27 students, compared with 13.76 students in 2011–12 in the UK.

These layoffs directly affect the safety of the University campus, the proper functioning of libraries and laboratories. If they do take place, there is no future; the students will be forced not to study, save for the wealthy ones who will be studying abroad.

In a television panel on Monday night, the rector of NKUA, Professor Pelegrinis confronted the Minister of Education (Prof. Arvanitopoulos, an Academic in Panteion University that has been, surprisingly, excluded from the layoffs!) by saying “Your policy attacks the only two Universities of Greece that have the word “National” in their name; you are attacking the Nation”.

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