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Letter from Athens: The Non-Graduate: Eternal Question, Greece’s Eternal Students

January 17, 2021

Some of the best minds in the world, especially in scientific and medical fields, have come out of Greece's beleaguered universities that have long had a reputation for mediocrity in many ways, especially low standards for getting in, staying in, and getting out too. 

There are likely students still registered who were supposed to be in the class of 1970 – yes, 51 years ago – because they're not required to graduate under the system's laughably unfunny so-called “eternal student” tolerance. 

That has meant a student could be admitted for some majors – excluding law, medicine, and those with actual standards – with failing grades in their entrance exams, which somehow didn't jibe with those near-perfect scores given by lenient high school teachers who didn't want to confront angry parents. 

The former ruling Looney Left SYRIZA, now the SYRIZA Regressive Alliance after taking a beating in July 7, 2019 snap elections to the New Democracy Capitalists, thought those low benchmarks were too tough and that anyone who wanted to be a college student could walk in the door, if they knew how to open it. 

SYRIZA dumbed down education so much – a former lack-of-education minister for the party said “excellence in education isn't a virtue” – that all you had to do was watch Dumb and Dumber and, voila (that's a French word) you're in college! 

Five months before he was elected, now Prime Minister and Conservatives leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis – who, as a Harvard and Stanford graduate knows excellence in education – said he wanted a review of the Greek Constitution’s Article 16, which prohibits the establishment of private universities. 

“The state must guarantee quality state sector tertiary education, giving opportunities to everyone,” Mitsotakis said at the time, the article barring graduates from places like Harvard and Stanford from holding public jobs – except for Prime Minister, of course. 

“It must also allow what already applies in the rest of the world: the operation of private, non-profit institutions,” he said, adding that these would be monitored by an independent authority. 

But now, 18 months in power he still hasn't done it, although his government is planning to try to get rid of the detritus of eternal students clogging the rosters of universities that, despite some luminary graduates, fare poorly in world ratings. 

The Top Universities list for 2021 puts The National Technical University of Athens, the country's best, at 477th in the world, up from 601st a year earlier but without classes because of the COVID-19 pandemic who's keeping score? 

In March, 2017 the World University Rankings said the number of eternal students in Greece had doubled in a decade to almost 329,000 and there's no accounting of whether they go to class, hang around the campus drinking coffee and smoking, or why they went to college. 

Previous governments had tried to stop it, even enacting alleged laws that were repealed by SYRIZA, a party of eternal cafe philosophers, some of whom would like nothing better than to return to the good old days of yesteryear, occupying college buildings and plotting a revolution as long as it didn't affect their pensions one day. 

Now the Education Ministry said it will move to end the tolerance to let students extend their studies as long as they want, a minority doing so in some cases until retirement age. Otherwise some students entering in September won't be in the Class of 2025 but the Class of 2065, if even then. 

Kathimerini said a reform to provide incentives for students to attend classes after being admitted at high school age will go to the public for consultation, certain to draw fire from the SYRIZANs. 

Some 282,588 students, out of a total 668,734 – more than 42 percent – didn’t graduate on time in the last academic year, which has been going on for decades. 

The planned reform would require students to graduate a four-year course in six years, while those in six-year programs would be given nine years, taking them deep into their 20’s by the time they get a degree instead of never as now. 

In 2014, then-Education Minister Andreas Loverdos also tried to stop the problem of eternal students but failed, as had so many before him, at that time saying those in universities longer than 11 years should be expelled, but he didn’t do it. 

He said then that some students had been in colleges since the 1950’s, registered as students, while the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development said 80 percent of students didn't graduate on time, or ever. 

He kept at it for a few years but got nowhere in his arguments, including that many of the eternal students had no interest in graduating, raising the question of why they were there in the first place. 

But maybe here's a clue. In December, 2012 a student at the University of Patras who was living in his dorm room for 22 years was finally evicted, officials said, after a couple of decades of no rent, free food, living the lush life. 

That came after an inspection the previous year found many of the oldest ‘students’ were renting out rooms they had for free to other students to make money. Now Mitsotakis can show he meant what he said and boot the deadbeats just like this: Voila! 

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