Crete is in need of more nomads

September 8, 2000

As rector of the University of Crete, Christos Nikolaou might be expected to rejoice in his office on Rethymon campus, less than half a mile from the site of King Midas's palace.

Crete is a beautiful place to study. The rivalry between Greece's polytechnics and its upgraded institutes for technical education does not impinge on university life, and a recent study by the University of Patros has shown that the number of international publications per faculty member at Crete is the highest in Greece.

But higher education on the island is facing a crisis in attracting students and funds.

"We have two problems," Dr Nikolaou said. "First, we are not in Athens. Second, we are an island."

Dr Nikolau sees himself on a collision course with what he calls the "huge dinosaurs" - Athens and Greece's second largest university, Thessaloniki. "They are getting bigger and taking all the money and resources," he said.

When it comes to attracting students, Crete faces a further problem - Greek Mothers' Syndrome.

"In this country, undergraduates are strongly influenced by their parents when it comes to choosing a university. Whereas in Britain and America undergraduates usually go where their parents are not, Greek 18-year-olds stay close to home or go somewhere that their parents have chosen for them," Dr Nikolaou said.

With only half a million citizens (5 per cent of the Greek population), Crete has an obvious need to attract students from elsewhere.

"Greek parents have a psychological barrier about sending their children here. They think: 'It won't be easy to find my kid on an island'," Dr Nikolaou said.

There are about 10,000 students on the island, divided between Chania polytechnic, three technical institutes (Heraklion, Rethymon and Siteia) and the university.

Dr Nikolaou, who worked in New York before returning to his native island, has strategies for redressing the balance of both funds and student numbers in favour of Crete. He intends to open the university's research departments to cooperation, particularly within the European Union.

"We also have to develop university life into a more nomadic way of learning, a return to the Middle Ages when students moved between different universities and different countries," he said. "This happens in Europe already, but when I look at Greek universities I see a high degree of lagging behind."

Long term, Dr Nikolaou is hoping that Crete will lead the way as a virtual learning centre, providing degrees over the internet to students from all over the world.

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