In a few days, hundreds of last year high school students in Greece are going to be informed about their future studies as the Ministry of Education is going to publish the lists of admitted students to Greek Universities. Admission to tertiary education is one of the most important issues in modern Greece. Thus, almost all governments have tried to make several reforms and changes to the admission procedure to the Universities and the Technological Educational Institutes (TEIs).
Students’ effort to succeed in the final school exams begins at their 15, as soon as they enter the high school. The vast majority of students attend private tutoring lessons, which has a significant social impact especially during the period of financial crisis by reinforcing the black economy and the shadow education, burden further their families and enhance the social, economical and learning inequalities among the students. The wealthier students can afford to attend more and better quality courses, while many low-income students struggle to afford these private classes and have this privilege. After all, the whole educational process in high school revolves around the university admission exams, degrading the level of most lessons and the students’ general knowledge.
In Greece we can observe the following paradox: the Ministry of Education determines both the process of the admission and the number of admissible students, limiting the role of universities. For this reason, almost every year the secondary admission criteria change, such as admissible students without exams. In recent years, the university rectors ask for a reduction in the number of students admitted. Their claim has some logical basis, although this is not the main problem of Greek universities. In 2011 major structural reforms to universities were made on several issues, such as administration, student representation in governing bodies, inactive students deletion etc. These changes, although promising better quality universities, were actually meretricious, since the universities’ biggest problems remained unsolved. These are especially the underfunding, the big student-faculty ratio, which in some universities is over 50 and in many TEIs over 100, as well as the literally nonexistent evaluation of the faculty and the curriculum.
Any reduction at the number of students admitted is expected to affect in different ways. Firstly, a direct advantage is the better student-faculty ratio. The universities will have more flexibility in shaping their curricula and manage better their students. Also, students will be more focused when choosing the school that seems interesting to them. On the other hand, the disadvantages are many more! The total number of active students is one of the main criteria of state funding so the university underfunding will continue to exist. Many young people that will not make it to these universities will be forced to study abroad with all the consequences that this may have, such as brain drain, human and financial capital loss etc. Many, especially those who do not have the appropriate financial ability, will fail to study at all! All this happens at a time when Greece holds the highest youth unemployment rate in Europe and has a large and worrying number of NEETs (young people not in education, employment or training).
In recent years, mainly because of the crisis, many prospective students choose their university based on their place of residence regardless their interests and the field of studies. This, apart from creating disappointed students who live with their parents for economical reasons, is delaying their smooth transition into autonomy and affects particularly the regional educational institutions, since most of the students apply for a place at universities of Athens and Thessaloniki.
The Greek universities remain reliable and still have good reputation despite the challenges. This is because of both their highly qualified faculty, and the high level of students. Nevertheless, many young people are eager to study abroad. The main reason is to network and find a better paid job abroad and also enjoy better living conditions. Unfortunately, the non-formal education in Greece does not benefit from any substantial recognition and is not very popular among the population, despite the efforts of the civil society organisations.
Another significant fact is the number of Greek students that do not rely on their university courses and attend Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) provided by prestigious universities in Europe and the USA. The paper “Evaluating Geographic Data in MOOCs” (S.O. Nesterko et al) provides us with very interesting outcomes. According to this, there are more Greeks logging into HarvardΧ courses in proportion to the country’s population, while Greece has also the highest portion of successful completion of courses with 13.6% of students completing the course and receiving a participation/completion certificate. In addition, 3,875 students from Greece participated at HarvardX MOOCs courses placing Greece ahead of other European countries!
Concluding, we should highlight that it is not only important to regulate the number of admitted students, but also the admission qualifications. To achieve a substantial and qualitative change there should be a frank, fruitful and productive discussion between all stakeholders, the Ministry of Education, the Universities and the society as a whole. There should be enforced well structured long-term policies that will integrate smoothly and under good conditions the young people into the labour market, even when they fail to enter higher education.
Published by Dimitris Makrystathis