Greece will lift the ban on private universities, the conservative government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced this week in a historic move.
The initiative will be part of broader higher education reforms that will be introduced in a bill soon to be tabled in Parliament, Mitsotakis said at a cabinet meeting.
The Greek Premier noted that private universities would be able to operate as Greek branches of foreign universities, some of which are already seeking to operate in the country.
He stressed that allowing private universities to operate in Greece will attract foreign students. He added that the approximately 40,000 Greek students who travel abroad for higher education each year would have the option to study in the country.
He also emphasized that the reform would significantly contribute to the Greek economy. Until now, Greece is the only Western country that bans private universities. This is due to Article 16 of the Greek Constitution, which states that “the formation of universities by private individuals is forbidden.”
The Greek government is expected to use a 2020 ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union to allow private universities to overcome the ban imposed by Article 16.
In Greece, universities have always been state-owned entities, and their faculty are civil servants, paid by the government.
The ban on private universities was created during the 1967-74 military dictatorship to prevent communists from creating private universities for propaganda purposes.
In recent years, there has been growing support for legalizing private universities in Greece. Supporters of this change argue that it would give Greek students more choice and flexibility and that it would help to meet the growing demand for higher education.
However, opposition parties argue that the proposed reform would harm the quality of Greek higher education, and increase inequality. They also claim the government is prioritizing the interests of specific business entrepreneurs over public education.
Private universities in Greece could launch in 2025
Private universities could launch their operation in Greece from the 2025-2026 academic year, or “in any case by the end of this government’s tenure,” said Education Minister Kyriakos Pierrakakis.
The Greek government’s “new legislation that allows for the founding of private, non-profit universities in the country means we will stop being the only country in the world without private higher education institutions,” he stressed.
He noted that there is a set of rules and conditions for the operation of those institutions, mentioning that “there needs to be at least three faculties available before their portfolio is considered…, with 30 professors with a Ph.D. as a required minimum.” Overall, the criteria for approving these universities’ operation in Greece “will be the strictest in Europe.”
Greece has 24 accredited public universities as well as several private colleges. Colleges generally overcome the constraint of Article 16 by forming collaboration agreements with foreign universities to offer undergraduate and postgraduate programs.