Greek fox charms chancellors

November 10, 1995

Greek university chancellors have decided against closing their institutions for an indefinite period after the prime minister assured them that the government would examine their grievances, although he declined to make concrete promises.

The chancellors sought the meeting with Andreas Papandreou when it became obvious that the education ministry was unable to improve its offer of an additional Drs1.5bn (Pounds 42m), less than a quarter of a projected Drs7bn deficit faced by the universities, without the consent of the treasury.

Without committing himself to specific measures, Mr Papandreou, though old and infirm and clearly not the man he once was, still managed to impress the chancellors, who left empty handed but willing to keep the universities open and struggle on until the middle of this month when they will review the situation in the light of specific government action.

Mr Papandreou promised that enough money would be found for the operational needs of the universities until the end of the year and agreed to meet the chancellors again on December 10 in order to inform them of "the government's financial and legal reforms for higher education".

The old Papandreou magic worked and the fact that December 10 is a Sunday (a day the prime minister is unlikely to work) and well after the official closing of the 1995-96 budget, did not seem to worry the chancellors unduly.

The official opposition conservative party repeated that it will allocate 5 per cent of the gross national product to education when it comes to power; while the Political Spring, a conservative splinter group led by former foreign minister Antonis Samaras, demanded an annual 20 per cent increase for education.

The Communist party stated that education should not be funded from a percentage of the GNP but given a straight 15 per cent from the national budget and the left-wing Alliance spoke "of a better exploitation of resources for the improvement of education".

After the meeting with the prime minister the chancellors expressed quiet optimism that he would meet their demands: enough aid to cover 1995's operational needs, the replacement of 1,000 teaching jobs lost over the past few years as a result of cuts, substantial salary increases to low-paid non-teaching staff, the immediate allocation to the universities of the state's proportion for the second community support programme, and a new salary structure to tie academic salaries to high court judges'.

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