More than 3,000 extra students should go to university or a technological institute this year in Greece, former education secretary George Papandreou announced on the eve of the election in which the government of which he is a member was returned to power.
The extra numbers are being sought despite opposition by the vast majority of university chancellors. The number of places is set by the ministry once a year and university chancellors cast doubts on the legal basis of the decision to ask them to accept extra students. Only the chancellor of the University of Thrace responded positively.
Opposition parties accused Mr Papandreou of exploiting parental anxieties and indulging in pre-election vote manipulation.
The minister claimed the measure had been discussed and agreed upon with the chancellors although he accepted that it was being operated experimentally only for this year. He denied it was a pre-election trick and challenged all those who dispute its legal basis to take him to court.
Most chancellors refused to accept extra students on the grounds that the timing of the announcement was highly suspect and that the subsidy offered by the ministry was totally inadequate.
It costs around Drs1.5 million (Pounds 4,000) to educate a university student but the ministry is offering as little as Drs 180,000 to universities and Drs 150,000 to technological institutes.
The chancellors are also expressing disappointment at the ministry's lack of concern over the difficulties faced by their institutions.
The University of the Aegean is in danger of closing due to lack of funds, (new places have been cut by 30 per cent while both academic and administrative staff have not been paid since the beginning of the year) while the extra subsidy of Drs 400 million offered by the ministry for the additional students is likely to exacerbate rather than alleviate the problems.
Mr Papandreou was promoted to the foreign ministry in the new government of prime minister Kosias Simitis, who replaced him with Gerasimos Arsenis, an early rival for the caretaker premiership when Andreas Papandreou stood down shortly before his death. Mr Arsenis was previously defence secretary.