Greece Wants to Lure Foreign Students Through Culture, History

Photo by EUROKINISSI / ELENI ROKOU.

ATHENS – With a rich ancient history and culture renowned as one of the world’s greatest, Greece plans to use that to bring in as many as 50,000 foreign students by 2024 to study classical literature, philosophy and its past – in English.

Greek universities don’t rank among the world’s top, held down by a system that doesn’t require students to graduate or even attend class despite having some top professors and top minds.

After the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA was accused by critics of dumbing down education – a former minister said excellence wasn’t a virtue – the New Democracy government’s Education Minister Niki Kerameus is trying to stop up standards too.

Greece is also the only European Union country that doesn’t allow private university diplomas to be recognized for work in the public sector, which means even graduates of American Ivy League schools are barred.

Now, Kerameus – a lawyer and graduate of Harvard Law School – said she wants to make Greek universities shine and diversify the student base as part of an overhaul of the state-run higher education system.

“During past years Greek universities have been inward-looking institutions. We want to internationalize them and render them a hub for (tertiary) education in southeast Europe,” she told The Financial Times which featured the plan in a report.

“We are working with academic institutions, with governments and through personal contacts at universities abroad,” she said, with universities being offered extra funding to take part, although the government still hasn’t moved to repeal Article 16 of the Constitution which prohibits private universities.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis – a graduate of Harvard and Stanford – said he wanted to reform higher education and the new measures would also give Greek universities greater leeway in admitting students, designing courses and charging fees for graduate courses and non-European Union students working toward their first degree as Greek students pay nothing,

A new four-year program in classical studies, beginning in October at Athens’ Kapodistrian university, is targeting Chinese undergraduates as the two countries grow closer in investments and cultural ties, sharing rich ancient histories.

Greece last year joined 10 other EU countries is signing onto China’s Belt and Road scheme to give that country greater inroads into the bloc,  with Greece having already given China’s port company COSCO control of Piraeus, where it has upgraded facilities, and with a Chinese firm gaining a stake in Greece’s national electric grid.

Kerameus said she also wants to link up with American schools.“Whenever I travel abroad I try to visit universities to open up a channel of communication and get the message across that Greece is strongly interested in establishing international co-operation at the educational level,” she told the newspaper.

She said she also wants to allow Greek universities, now banned from doing so, to get private donations as they have struggled with repeated budget cuts during a near decade-long economic and austerity crisis and don’t charge tuition for Greek students.

New Democracy though has been  shy about taking another crack at overturning Article 16 after a previous administration gave up when confronted with often violent demonstrations by students and leftist activists who don’t want private universities in the country, although Kerameus wants closer cooperation with them – but not to let them operate.

Instead, she said, Greek universities would be encouraged to earn income from running summer schools that would charge foreign students but not let private universities compete with Greek colleges where students can stay for life without graduating.

“We want to provide the possibility for universities to have other tools of funding than just the state budget, for example tax incentives for donations and endowments, public private partnerships and proceeds from patents,” she said.

The first public-private partnership is already under way: a project to construct new residential accommodation for 3,000 students at the University of Crete, which will cater mainly for foreign students, the report also said.

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