Greek universities are to remain closed indefinitely due to a strike by academic staff who are demanding a 20 per cent increase in basic salaries.
A large number of students will not be able to sit examinations due to start in mid June and may lose the entire semester.
As well as the pay demand, academics are seeking the inclusion of the extra-tuition, research, and long-service (25 years) supplements into basic salary; the extension of these measures to all grades of academic staff and pensioners; and a substantial increase in education funding.
Four months of negotiations between the trade unions, the universities and the education ministry broke down when the treasury said no increases were possible before the year 2004.
Education secretary Petros Efthymiou's announcement that the extra-tuition supplement, worth between E400-E700 (£250-£450), would be included in the basic salary and paid from January 2003, was a tactical manoeuvre that caused a rift between the trade unions and university senates.
The senates claimed that since one of their demands had been satisfied, there was no longer a justification for industrial action and voted to continue negotiations and examine other forms of pressure on the government. But the militant trade unions instructed their members to withhold their labour until all their demands were met.
Mr Efthymiou called on academics to suspend industrial action during exams. "I am confident that the special nature of university teaching will not allow academics - without abandoning their demands - to place the exam period in jeopardy," he said.
Trade union chief negotiator Christos Trikalinos said: "The authorities have remained apathetic for the past four months during which we outlined our demands and announced our intention to strike. We ask the government to consider that education is the best investment for the defence of the country and its European integration."