Greece's education secretary has embarrassed the government by voting in favour of opposition plans to permit private universities.
The opposition has revealed that Gerasimos Arsenis, in a parliamentary committee discussing constitutional reform, voted for their proposals and against the government's policy of keeping the state monopoly on universities. Mr Arsenis initially denied the claim, but when the opposition presented his ballot paper, he claimed that it was a mistake.
The supreme court also contradicted itself on the same subject. Less than a month after a decision deeming private universities unconstitutional, the court issued a second permitting non-state universities run as charities by organisations such as the church, local authorities, professional associations, trade unions and other quasi-state or private bodies.
Before the court decision, culture secretary Evangelos Venizelos, a renowned constitutionalist and leader of the constitutional reform committee, had said that the article guaranteeing the state monopoly on education "has not exhausted its interpretative possibilities".
The academic community's reaction to a move away from state control ranged from hostile to sceptical. Andreas Kintis, rector of the Economic University, said: "We expect local authorities to run universities when they are incapable of collecting the rubbish from the streets."
Kostas Dimopoulos, rector of Athens University, said: "Existing universities have great potential for development.It is a mistake that they do not receive the proper support from the state or from the citizens."
The few academics who agreed with the decision called on the government to regulate carefully the operation of new universities. This would happen, said under-secretary of state Giannis Anthopoulos.
"The court's decision does not alter the public nature of higher education. The state, which sets rules and regulations for its universities, will in future set the same specifications for non-profit-making, non-state universities."
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