Greeks wooed by low fares

August 17, 2001

Despite Crete's climate and an enviable record for publication in international journals - the highest in Greece - the island's university has chronic difficulty in attracting students.

Crete's Rethymon campus suffers from what rector Christos Nikolao has identified as "Greek mothers' syndrome".

"In this country, undergraduates are strongly influenced by their parents when it comes to choosing a university and they tend to stay close to home," he said.

Given that Crete has only 500,000 citizens of its own (5 per cent of the total Greek population), the university's priority has been to find a way of bringing in students from elsewhere in Greece - an uphill struggle when Athens and Thessaloniki consume a disproportionate amount of higher education spending.

"We have no money to provide dormitories, which means that students find themselves in second or third-rate hotel rooms," Dr Nikolao said.

Transport costs are also a big disincentive to students. But the university is trying to reduce these by going into the bus business.

Dr Nikolao said: "I had hoped, as some form of inducement, to lower the cost of living. But we are waging a battle against the local bus company. Our wish for some time has been to use our own rented buses to provide cheap student transportation, but the bus company opposed this."

A single fare from Heraklion to the campus costs €0.57 (36p) - almost three times what it might cost in Athens.

The university went to court arguing that because its service would not transport the public but only university students, it should be allowed to undercut the bus company and bring the fare down to about Dr0.22 (the average cost of student fares in Thessaloniki).

The court has allowed the university to offer students an unlimited-use pass for Dr15 a month.

"This pass is a step forward in making Crete more financially attractive," said Eva Michelidaki, head of international relations.

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