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Greece an Up And Coming International Student Destination

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The Academy building in Athens. Credit: Thomas Wolf, CC BY-SA 3.0 de/Wikipedia

Greece may soon become an attractive destination for international students in higher education, as acclaimed Greek public universities are launching new competitive undergraduate programs taught entirely in English.

Although a few of them have already been successfully operating postgraduate study programs in English and French in recent years, the first entire programs for undergraduate  foreigners were only introduced in late 2020.

Complete undergraduate programs for foreign students in Greece

Naturally, the first undergraduate study degree program offered in English by a public university in Greece was the BA in Archaeology, History, and Literature of Ancient Greece by Athens University’s School of Philosophy, which welcomed its first students in autumn 2020 and is open only to non-EU residents.

A year later, the prestigious School of Medicine of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki -the largest academic institution in SE Europe — launched its own undergraduate study program in English.

A total of 950 applications were submitted from twenty countries — although half of them were from Cyprus — to claim one of just 60 seats in the debut year of the 6-year course taught in the land of the founder of medicine, the great Hippocrates.

In the meantime, more public universities are designing their own undergraduate study programs in the English language.

Among them is the University of Western Attica (UNIWA), whose premises are adjacent to Plato’s Academy and the historic Athens Olive Grove, where ancient Athenian philosophers gave their lectures.

UNIWA plans to announce undergraduate study programs taught in English by the Summer of 2022.

The opportunity would be open to both international and domestic students who might want to obtain a degree in English.

Ioannis Kaldelis, an Engineering Professor who is the Vice Dean of UNIWA, tells Greek Reporter that new undergraduate programs designed with international students in mind will need to stand out as truly innovative and interdisciplinary, in order to be competitive and not clash with the degree programs already on offer for domestic students in Greek.

However, if everything is rolled out correctly, Greece could become not only a regional center for higher education, but also an alternative destination for Europeans who are looking for quality studies in the English language, but are unable to deal with the increased cost of studying in the UK, post-Brexit, he adds.

Combined Knowledge, Quality and Innovation

UNIWA, which has been a host for undergraduate and postgraduate Erasmus students for many years, also currently offers five postgraduate study programs taught entirely in English, in collaboration with foreign universities.

Original combinations of existing subjects from across its six schools and 27 departments, could easily create new fields of expertise, Kaldelis states.

“There is an ongoing effort to create an undergraduate study program, for instance, which would bring together environmental sustainability and health, thus combining knowledge from the School of Engineering and the School of Public Health.

“There is nothing similar to this available in Greece; it only exists in a few study programs in Europe, and I believe it would even attract Greek students who are not currently covered on this level,” he explains.

The aim is to draw students from the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean, but the Vice Dean is confident that such interdisciplinary study programs could attract interest from other Europeans as well.

“Strategically, we would like our public universities to cover a vast range of programs. We are certainly stricter than the private sector in terms of decision-making for starting new programs, because of the multitude of levels they need to be approved on, but this process secures that the selected programs to eventually launch are academically correct.

“Public universities are not-for-profit. They aspire to have a fiscal balance, to not burden their budgets excessively. So, in general, they concentrate on high quality and the lowest possible cost for the students,” he adds.

There is, of course, no intention to compete between public universities, or between public and private ones, Kaldelis points out, as each has its own strengths in specific subjects and sectors.

On the contrary, there are thoughts about creating trans-university programs in the more distant future. “Creative composition is what we are looking for,” he clarifies.

Unique Momentum Created by Brexit

At this moment in time when studying in UK universities has become more expensive for European students post-Brexit, Vice Dean Kaldelis sees a unique opportunity for new countries to step in with English-language programs.

“There is a number of people who still want to study in English-speaking universities or study programs. Therefore, Greek universities can cover that gap, if they plan it right and keep the necessary high academic level,” he opines.

When it comes to UNIWA, its rich experience acquired by taking part in the Erasmus student exchange program over the years has paved the way for creating original foreign language courses.

First, Erasmus was the reason why many of the university’s subjects already are available in English, and, second, it boosted the mobility of professors both ways.

Furthermore, it allowed the university to listen to the needs of international students from different backgrounds and understand what they seek when choosing a university.

Students from southeastern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, for example, are usually less financially well-off than their European peers, Kaldelis notes.

“There is an issue of evaluating their abilities and how we could facilitate the presence of these students who want to come to our country for better education, learn in English, and become partakers of the Greek way of thinking, the Greek lifestyle, the Greek culture.

“Upon returning to their home countries, they could become ambassadors for a closer collaboration of our universities with theirs, so that would be double gain for us,” he observes.

Greece as an International Student Destination

All that being said, the goal has always been to establish Greece as a center for education, if not for the entirety of Europe, then at least for the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean, Kaldelis says.

The example of how Cyprus is doing this is being studied, he adds, to examine what is worth keeping from that model and what better they can offer themselves.

“What we want to create right now doesn’t really aim at profit, but rather at making the Greek educational system a source of knowledge for the broader region.

“Both the educational and research staff in our Universities is highly qualified, with very good knowledge, and many of them have collaborations with acclaimed European universities or institutions, so we definitely have a lot to give,” the Vice Dean states.

“And that would constitute a national gain, because our neighbors would get to know our country better and to love the way we live and operate by,” he concludes.

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