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Letter from Athens: Greek Colleges: Tsipras Dumbed Down, Mitsotakis Smartened Up

September 12, 2021
Βy Andy Dabilis

Until this year a high school student who wanted to get into a Greek university – excepting the high standards for law school and medical school – pretty much had only to spell his or her name right.

In a country which essentially invented education and critical thinking, neither really exist here anymore, schools preferring rote memorization and parroting answers instead of analyses and essays. No Good Will Hunting scenes.

That has led to Greek universities happy to be named somewhere between 301-400 in world rankings instead of trying to hide in shame, perpetuating a system in which private schools aren't allowed and graduates of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, University of Chicago, Stanford, Oxford and Cambridge ineligible to be hired as a clerk in a public office which accepts only Greek university diplomas, even if the name is spelled wrong.

Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, with a privileged private education at Athens College and then Harvard and Stanford, has experienced what that means, even if it's out of reach for most.

But at least his government has raised standards to get into a Greek university that were so low that for some schools students were allowed if they got a score of less than 10 out of 100 on the alleged entrance exams.

That's the way that the former premier and now major opposition SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras liked it, his party made up of veterans of sit-ins and takeovers and hanging around college campuses and philosophizing when they were students.

He had an education minister who actually said, “excellence in education is not a virtue,” and SYRIZA's preference was to open the doors for all and to bar private colleges and keep out of Greece those Harvard-Stanford types of the elite.

When slews of students failed exams for some universities this year – they are scattered around the country not as centers of education but places to dump students to help local economies – Tspiras predictably wailed.

He didn't like the higher standards that were set because he said that locked out of school students who weren't eligible to be there based on real standards such as those in the United States, where high schools like Boston Latin are better than some Greek universities.

One in three candidates from secondary school, a total of 25,014, and two in the three (10,584) from vocational high schools (EPAL) failed to meet the higher benchmark set by the government.

Education Minister Niki Kerameus said plans are being drawn up addressing what to do about the huge deficit in students that regional schools rely on for their economy, one of the reasons that failing students are allowed in.

There will be 17,762 positions in university departments that were left vacant, and some have so few admissions – less than 10 – that they are virtually empty. Some 100 have fewer than 20 entrants and not one student was able to get into the Architecture Department at the Democritus University of Thrace in Xanthi.

The plan will seek to rearrange the academic map of 450 higher education departments around the country, said Kathimerini, although it wasn't said what would happen to schools with few students.

Before the minimum threshold was introduced, students gained entry to universities almost regardless of their exam performance, the newspaper noted and as Kerameus said the higher standard means diplomas will be worth more.

“We no longer have the phenomenon of people gaining admission with grades of 1, 2 and 3,” out of 10, she said.

“Our young people have a way out and a new outlook,” she insisted, adding that “students will get what they need from a university education, which will also help them professionally.”

“Our young people are no longer trapped in universities. Their studies have value as we do not have the phenomenon of people admitted with (low marks).”

Universities would see their prestige and standing improve. The inclusion of public technical colleges in the entrance clearing system for the first time also offered alternatives to young people, she said.

Kerameus was graduated from the Sorbonne in Paris and Harvard Law School – which means she couldn't get a regular job in a Greek state office.

SYRIZA would really like there to be not only no entrance exams but no qualifications to get into an alleged university, nor go to class, nor graduate but to use your time to sit around and plan a revolution.

Tsipras said the higher standards mean many students won't get a college education even if they weren't qualified and called the higher standards results a “massacre,” and slammed what he called the “indifference” of Mitsotakis.

Some 92,090 candidates took part in higher education exams but only 63,239 candidates were admitted to the universities and colleges of the ministries of National Defense, Tourism, and Citizens’ Protection.

Tsipras referred to an unprecedented “injustice” in the history of the Greek public universities and said the government had chosen to create “universities for the few (and) fee-paying colleges for the many.”

“A Prime Minister that has not even passed outside a Greek university and has the financial means to send his children to study abroad has decided to clip the wings of thousands of pupils that chose to study in their own country,” Tsipras said, without taking a test.

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