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Education Ministry Bill Passed in Greek Parliament

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(Photo by Eurokinissi/ Yiorgos Kontarinis)

ATHENS --The bill on education was passed in principle in Parliament late on Thursday, with 166 votes in favour and 132 against.

The bill provides for the protection of academic freedom, the upgrade of the academic environment and changes in the admission system for universities.

The ruling New Democracy (ND) party voted in favour, as well as Elliniki Lysi party, while SYRIZA, KINAL, KKE and MeRA25 voted against.

The bill was passed in principle, with respect to its articles and in its entirety as well as the amendments.

Addressing MPs during Thursday's debate on the draft education bill, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis underlined that the draft education bill legislates for controlled access to university premises to prevent, as he said, turning them into "safehouses" for marginal groups.

"The schools will close their door to violence, opening the door to freedom. With perimeter guarding and technical equipment, illegal actions will be prevented while cases such as accidents or urgent incidents will be located on time," he said, adding that "no 'stormtroopers' will have place in the world of progress".

Mitsotakis said that the bill is a significant step forward, a "wake-up call" and a message that Greece's democracy applies everywhere and for everyone. "It is democracy that is entering university schools, not the police," he said.

"There are regulations that address problems that go back decades, others that address current issues and others that open horizons to the future. The education ministry's bill we are discussing today has all three of these characteristics because it answers boldly to the perennial problem of safety in the universities. It establishes a modern method of admission and the selection of studies and upgrades higher education as a whole, synchronising it with the needs and the pace of the 21st century," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis underlined.

Continuing his speech during the plenary session, the prime minister said that there was no doubt that Greek universities possessed great scientists and academics and "islands of excellence" but only one was in the top 200 universities worldwide, which was not good enough.

He also referred to his speech in August on university asylum, where he said that progress required "calmness, security and rules."

Additionally, Mitsotakis said that "two diametrically opposed perceptions of the Greek state universities are contending here. Our intention is to give the state universities back to their natural owners, the students, the professors and university employees. To once again make it a hive of creativity and hub of fertile thought. With the people that serve it free and secure. A pioneer of the country's growth and not an islet where the democratic state's rules are inert and the will of any authoritarian minority can be imposed."

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Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis addresses the Parliament on Thursday, during the debate of the bill for the introduction in the higher education, the protection of the academic freedom and the upgrading of the academic environment. (Photo by Eurokinssi/ Yiorgos Kontarinis)

"We want universities of knowledge and innovation in a safe and free environment and in these universities there is no room for violence and bullying," stated Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in a post on his Twitter account on Thursday.

The tweet was accompanied by a video.

KKE's Koutsoumbas: Even if education ministry bill is passed, it will not be implemented

Communist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Dimitris Koutsoumbas, in his address to parliament during the debate for the education ministry's draft bill on Thursday, said that the government is "making a university that is further and further away from society's needs and the existing capacity to disseminate the knowledge that is generated there, and to provide answers to the people's problems and concerns."

Koutsoumbas underlined that even if the bill is passed, it will not be implemented in practice.

KINAL leader Gennimata: Yes to protection, no to a police state

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Opposition Movement for Change (KINAL) leader Fofi Gennimata. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Yiorgos Kontarinis)

Opposition Movement for Change (KINAL) leader Fofi Gennimata, in her address to parliament on Thursday during the debate on the education ministry draft law, defended a reform introduced by the PASOK government of 2010-2012, the so-called Diamantopoulou law, and accused ruling New Democracy of initially undoing its provisions before main opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance came to abolish it entirely.

"With this choice, the government deliberately broke up the front of a majority that wants the guarding of universities but not of this type. It turned the question of "protection or impunity" into "police or no police".

Gennimata claimed that the government does not learn from its mistakes and displays authoritarianism, as it did with the law on university asylum, refusing any consultation.

She underlined that her party says a clear 'yes' to protection but 'no' to a police state, supporting an upgrading of state universities but not the presence of police within them.

"No to policemen with clubs and handcuffs inside schools, no to cameras in classes and surveillance with drones," she said.

Tsipras accuses Mitsotakis of trying to manipulate public opinion

Main opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance leader Alexis Tsipras began his speech in Parliament with a harsh attack on Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, attributing to him "an Orwellian perception on the management of public opinion".

He described the prime minister's speech as extremely divisive and accused Mitsotakis that "the way you are trying to manipulate public opinion is really impressive. Even Orwell would envy you. You are taking advantage of the emergency and you have imposed a regime of fear and surveillance. Anything that bothers you is dangerous to public health and forbidden. Sometimes you impose heavy fines and bans. What does not bother you or restrictions that inconvenience you and your friends, you ignore them. You do not care one bit about crowding in workplaces or in means of public transport."

Education minister: Time to leave decades-long university malaise behind

The educational bill aims to do away with a decades-old malaise "and give our children and professors and the academic community the university they deserve," Education Minister Niki Kerameus said on Wednesday.

During a plenary debate preceding its voting, Kerameus listed the issues that haunt higher education in Greece today as follows:

- Admission to universities without academic qualifications, with grades of 1, 2, or 3 out of 20

- The admission of candidates to departments the applicants have put down randomly, without any care

- The fact that over 40 percent of university students has been enrolled for an unknown number of years

- The false assumption that the only educational development consists of a university degree, and

- Violence on university campuses.

Kerameus continued, "We cannot accept professors keeping silence under the fear that specific groups in the university will react. We cannot accept the public humiliation of deans." She said the proposal for a campus police was introduced to leave legal violations to police jurisdiction. "It's not the dean's job to chase after the guy selling drugs, the guy throwing wooden planks, the guy who makes firebombs. It's not his job to deal with this."

The Education minister listed examples of violent incidents on campus that embarrassed the country internationally, and refuted claims that no other university in the world contained a control room for campus security. "At Oxford, control room. At Cambridge, control room. At Bristol, Spain, the Netherlands - there are control rooms everywhere. Are they all perverse, globally? Are all these universities Orwellian?" she said.

She also lashed against main opposition SYRIZA for populism and for setting up during its rule unviable departments, allowing admission with one-digit grades, and accomodating everyone without this leading anywhere. "Greece, the country of mediocrity - the country of the least effort, the country of populism," she said, asking, "Do you want the younger generation to stay at the level of mediocrity, the less, the least?"