Greeks give amber light to private unis

June 6, 1997

PROPOSED constitutional reform in Greece may end the state universities' monopoly on providing higher education and open the way for private universities by 2000.

The Greek constitution forbids private universities, but a recent discussion on constitutional reform by the ruling Panhellenic Socialist Movement concluded that the party cannot continue to view "higher education as the exclusive prerogative of the state universities". This alters long-established party policy and should allow private interests to move into higher education.

Former education secretary George Papandreou first hinted at the switch two years ago. He was anxious to satisfy the rising demand for higher education, and to stem the huge foreign exchange drain - more than 28,000 Greek students study in universities abroad.

Opposed to private universities are the chancellors of the state universities. They fear that private institutions will concentrate on less expensive courses, while state funding - already steadily reduced over the years - will be cut even further in the name of competition. The chancellors say the government should continue to invest in the state free education system to ensure that quality remains high.

The proposed constitutional reforms will be debated by the next parliament, and probably not before 2000. But change is likely no matter which party is in government then, as the opposition is committed to private education.

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