Greek towns battle for a small slice of cultural cake

October 11, 2002

Universities revitalise local economies, providing jobs and bringing students and their cash to town. The THES reports on their impact worldwide

Greek university cities enjoy improved cultural and economic activity to which non-university towns can only aspire.

In many cases, the revitalisation of community life, the improvement of local labour and investment indicators, as well as the undertaking and completion of major projects, have been largely due to the establishment of a university in the area.

The country has 16 universities, more than 40 technological institutes and several hundred thousand students. When the government announced the creation of two new provincial universities and 46 new departments for existing ones, it was accused of electioneering and of attempting to cut into smaller slices an already small cake as a warning to those who opposed government policy.

The siting of a new university or the creation of a department in an existing one has a tremendous economic impact on the locality.

Local citizens, often led by their mayors, prefects and other local dignitaries, march, demonstrate, protest and appeal to the mass media.

In one town in the west of the Peloponese, the local mayor and the council resigned in protest at the education secretary's decision to establish three university departments in the nearby capital of the county and none in their town.

Michael Dermitzakis, the Athens University vice-chancellor responsible for finance, said: "The university is not only a means of cultural improvement but also of enormous economic benefits.

"Students and lecturers bring an added value to the community and that is why very often local professional associations are fighting at the side or even at the head of the local people for preference."

A negative aspect is the opportunity for fraud, such as at Athens Pandio University recently, where academic staff were accused of having misappropriated public money, including prime minister Kostas Simitis's stipend of more than €70,000 (£45,000), which he donated to the library.

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