Greek scholars hope new law ends student anarchy on campuses

Legislation will enable police presence on campuses after years of academics being assaulted, held hostage and blocked from entering buildings

February 16, 2021
Clashes between demonstrators and riot police during the university students protest against the government-promoted university police in universities in Athens, on February 10, 2021.
Source: Getty
Clashes between demonstrators and riot police during student protests in Athens in February

Academics in Greece hope that a controversial new law allowing police on campuses will cut crime and improve working conditions after decades of anarchic student behaviour that has seen scholars attacked and held hostage.

Students held weeks of protests against the education bill, which was passed by MPs on 11 February and will allow universities to establish their own security forces and enable specially trained local police to enter university grounds.

Police have long been barred from entering university grounds in Greece, a prohibition that followed the killing of several people during the Athens Polytechnic uprising against the military junta in 1973.

The bill also establishes a minimum entry requirement for university and a maximum graduation term, with most courses now requiring students to complete their degrees within six years.

Previously anyone, regardless of their academic record, could enter higher education, and there was no fixed time within which they had to graduate, leading to a phenomenon where some so-called eternal students remained enrolled in their sixties. According to academics, the lax rules meant that many young people who did not attend classes were still technically students and could therefore freely access campus buildings.

Scholars said that they hoped the law signalled a new era for higher education in the country.

Vasso Kindi, professor of philosophy at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, said her office had been broken into twice and she was once held hostage by students, along with several visiting professors from the US, when they were members of the governing board of the University of Athens.

In October, the rector of the Athens University of Economics and Business was assaulted and held hostage in his office by a group of anarchists, who hung around his neck a sign expressing support for sit-in protests.

Professor Kindi said that students have repeatedly organised sit-ins that have lasted from weeks to six months, in protest against new institutional policies or for political reasons, and that many students and academics were “afraid to walk about on campus in the evening”.

The toleration shown towards this unruly student behaviour can be traced back to the end of the seven years of military rule in Greece in 1974, she explained.

“After the fall of the junta, students were held in very high regard because of their resistance against the military regime, and professors wouldn’t go against what students demanded because they were afraid that they would be criticised as collaborators of the junta,” Professor Kindi said.

“Then students’ unions developed ties with the political parties and often got involved in shady transactions in academic politics. Now professors are afraid to investigate or punish instances of any kind of bad behaviour because of what might happen afterwards.”

Professor Kindi was looking forward to the law improving conditions on campuses.

“We are putting our hopes on this measure. I don’t know what else can be done,” she said.

Loukas Vlahos, a physics professor at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, said the law did not address the fact that rectors are elected by faculty members (and, until recently, students), rather than appointed by a board – which meant that leaders were reluctant to intervene because they saw staff and students as their “constituents”.

Nevertheless, he said, the new legislation could solve many problems on Greek campuses, but whether it would be implemented was “a big if”.

“In the past, laws reforming universities have been passed with big majorities in parliament and ignored. I’m sceptical,” he said.

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Reader's comments (7)

Inaccurate and misleading. First - University authorities have always been able to invite police into campus to deal with a situation. Crucial point - they are invited in by the University authority. Second, the new law does not 'allow universities to establish their own security forces'. It creates a special police unit answerable to the police authorities to oversee 'law & order' as defined by them on campus. It is explicitly outwith the control of the university authorities. This is a measure taken by military dictatorships. The demands were that the government restored operational funding to the universities so that they could re-employ university security guards - abolished by the current governing party when they cut HEI funding during the crash nearly a decade ago. There has been a successful disinformation campaign blackening public universities and students that does not bear the light of day. Unacceptable actions do occur - but they are the exception, not the rule. 'Eternal students' are a minority that do not burden the system; time to degree can be long because many many students are de facto part-time (working - there are no grants); entry requirements etc are issues that should be determined by the universities - not the Ministry. And what is Prof Vlachos advocating? An Erdogan-like policy whereby rectors are appointed by the Ministry? There are many many issues here and the simplistic repetition of the government line justifying the new law - opposed by nearly all the academic community including the Rectors Synod - is not up to our expectations of THE.
Waiting for Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler to sign international petition in protest at Greek move as they have so stupidly done when police have tried to enforce laws in India
This statement bears no factual truth whatsoever: 'Previously anyone, regardless of their academic record, could enter higher education...' Could you please cite your source for this? And could you please specify what type of ‘higher education’ are you referring to? I am hugely disappointed to read of such inaccuracies in a publication I value and until now believed in its integrity. A simple 'google search' would have revealed to the author of this piece that historically to enter higher education (AEI) in Greece has been highly selective and only through the 'pan-hellenic national examinations'. Please see UCAS source below. In exceptional cases, students may enter certain Technical Educational Institutes (TEI), which are the rough equivalent of UK’s Further Education or its pre-1992 Polytechnics, without having reached the minimum threshold grades for certain subjects. But, even in these cases, candidates would still have needed to sit for the ‘pan-hellenic examinations’ and show evidence of a holistic academic record. Unfortunately, this factual inaccuracy is indicative of a biased article, written with extreme prejudice, and which actually does more disservice than good to the work of this and previous governments to reform higher education in Greece. UCAS (2016), 'Apolytirion without Pan-Hellenic examinations does not allow access to Greek universities.' source:
Candidates whose grades were 2 or 3 out of 20, could enter university departments before the new law. For instance, last year candidates whose grades were 3, or 4 got into the Mathematics Department of the University of the Aegean. So, practically, anyone could enter.
For the sake of accuracy, I forgot to add that my comment had to do with the integrity of 'reporting' on the work of successive governments in Greece. The role of THE is to 'report' on the facts and not to take sides; hence, this is the correct last sentence of what I meant in my previous comment: [this piece] actually does more disservice than good to 'reporting' on the work of this and previous governments to reform higher education in Greece.
In response to some of the comments above: “University authorities have always been able to invite police into campus to deal with a situation.” This was made possible only by the 2011 and the 2019 law (before, and in between with the Syriza government, the police was prohibited from entering). But even when it was allowed, that is between 2011 and 2017 and after the summer of 2019, rectors were reluctant to invite the police in when needed because they were afraid of the reactions. • “Second, the new law does not 'allow universities to establish their own security forces'.” Wrong! It does allow universities to establish their own security forces and it also creates a special police unit to oversee 'law & order', not as defined by them, but as defined by the constitution. • “This is a measure taken by military dictatorships.” This is a measure taken by liberal democracies all over the world (e.g., the US, Canada). Nowhere are police prohibited from entering university grounds and nowhere are academics afraid to call the police. • The alternative to having Rectors elected by the faculty is not to have them appointed by the Ministry a la Erdogan. They can be appointed by a Board of Trustees belonging to and elected by the academic community of the University.
This article is inaccurate and misleading, and what is presented as facts is simply the Greek goverment's narrative. Appalling endorsement of a police state which will eventually destroy public education in Greece by THE.