Greece is to merge its technological education institutes (TEIs) into universities in a sweeping reform of its higher education system that could see the degrees of hundreds of thousands of graduates upgraded.
The government has argued that the changes will create “synergies” and allow all institutions to help drive economic reconstruction.
But critics see it as a poorly prepared reform attempt designed to inflate the qualifications and boost the salaries of many graduates ahead of a general election in October. Greece’s far-left Syriza government is currently trailing rivals in the polls.
“It’s 100 per cent political,” said Loukas Vlahos, a physics professor at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki who has publicly criticised the changes. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Passed by 147 votes for to 100 against in Greece’s parliament, the country’s new higher education law is expected to open the door for existing graduates of TEIs to upgrade their degrees to full university qualifications.
This will allow those employed by the government, where pay is linked to qualifications, to command higher salaries, said Professor Vlahos. “It’s going to devalue the degrees of those who have [undertaken] enormous efforts to get into very prestigious schools,” he said. Universities generally require better exam scores for entry than TEIs, he explained.
One newspaper estimated there could be 400,000 such upgraded graduates, said Vasso Kindi, an assistant professor of philosophy at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. One risk is that those working for the government will ask for backdated pay enhancements to reflect their degree upgrades, she said.
Kostas Gavroglou, Greece’s education minister, insisted that TEI degrees would not be automatically upgraded. Instead, it would depend on factors such as when graduates studied, he said, with the exact criteria worked out over the next six months.
Another concern of critics is that the mergers have promoted TEI faculty to full university professors. This has been done “overnight, sweepingly, without any assessment of their credentials”, said Dr Kindi.
The main aim of the reform was to “gain the support of students, faculty and their families associated with the technological institutions”, she argued.
Professor Gavroglou told Times Higher Education that although TEI faculty would become university professors, they could be barred from responsibilities like PhD supervision if their record was not deemed adequate by university assessment committees.
Had the mergers evolved out of discussion between universities and TEIs, they could have been “reasonable”, Professor Vlahos said. However, they have been forced through by the government, he lamented. In April, the senate of Aristotle University warned that the plans lacked a feasibility study and a clear strategy.
“We never saw a full plan,” said Professor Vlahos. The reforms will “destroy” Greece’s technical training structures and force them together with its research-oriented universities, he warned.
Dr Kindi agreed. “The new enlarged universities find themselves with numerous new departments whose academic programmes are not accredited and are practically unknown. They may overlap with existing departments. They may have no relation to the profile of the university or the faculty they are attached to,” she said.
Professor Gavroglou countered that in some cases TEIs’ research records outperformed universities, yet they still suffered from a public perception that they were second-class institutions – a situation the mergers would help rectify.