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The Diaspora Advantage in Higher Education: The Case of Greece

Greece Higher education reforms
The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. Credit: Greek Reporter

The debate for higher education reforms is underway in Greece as a long overdue reform with the intent to contribute towards a competitive landscape in higher education.

By Steve Bakalis

One dimension of potential benefits from such reform that deserves attention is the diasporic and study-abroad (student exchange) programs. Increasingly, higher education institutions recognize how these networks can help work toward their strategic goals by leading to the formation and cultivation of new diaspora entrepreneurial networks.

Although not necessarily a new phenomenon, in the past decade, China, Israel, India, Singapore, and South Korea – among others – have initiated policies to strengthen strategic relationships with ‘their’ diaspora through higher education. These growing trends connect national and institutional diaspora strategies, with the aspirations and identities of mobile students.

Yet, Greece despite being associated with one of the largest and most vibrant diasporas has failed to develop this area in higher education as a way of building diaspora entrepreneurial networks. This gains greater importance as Greek Studies university programs seem to lose traction abroad, for reasons that are not the main focus here.

In Australia, for example, which hosts the largest Greek diaspora a petition is currently taking place pleading with Macquarie University which is presently contemplating the discontinuance of the Modern Greek Program, including the discontinuance of the study of four other languages, and their replacement with a course of global studies.

The same has happened in other Australian universities over the years, such as Melbourne University, RMIT University, and Monash University in Melbourne. Such decisions are more related to a lack of a vital demand by the student population and in a competitive environment Australian universities need to function efficiently and effectively.

The concern of the Greek-Australian community is noble, but it also needs to research the lack of interest in Greek at the university level on the part of the students, which can probably be explained by an apparent “fracture” between the first and the 2nd, 3rd, etc generations, and the absence of a meaningful and inclusive relationship of the diaspora with the homeland.

Greece should also be a priority for study-abroad education

Returning to study abroad, Europe is popular with students because of its diverse educational landscape, offering students from around the globe the opportunity to engage in high-quality education, leading to personal growth and improved career prospects, while experiencing a vibrant cultural and historical mosaic.

Greece should also be a priority for study-abroad students (including from the Greek diaspora) but this is not the case when compared to other European countries. For example, Spain and Italy are by far more appealing to Australian students as RMIT University Barcelona and Monash University Prato operate branch campuses in these countries.

The benefits of study-abroad programs are quite evident – the development of important life skills, including maturity and confidence; a “global outlook”; enhanced communication skills; cultural sensitivity and adaptability; and access to networks offering employment opportunities.

These are qualities that are highly valued by multinational corporations that seek to hire graduates who can function effectively across national borders.

The aim of university academics and administrators in Greece should be to move beyond disciplinary parochialism to ensure a truly integrated curriculum that is relevant to today’s borderless world.

One way is through the development of strategies that encourage students from the Greek Diaspora to seek experiences in their homeland for which they are given credit to count toward their degree and are aligned to the emerging understanding of its diaspora and its various advantages.

Finally, the international outlook of Greek universities is low in comparison to other universities highlighting the need to develop similar activities of extroversion, influence, and internationalization in the future.

The contemporary view of diaspora provides such an opportunity to internationalize their curricula, securing advantages for their students associated with transnational networks.

Dr. Steve Bakalis is an expert in international business education and management, has worked with the Australian National University, the University of Adelaide, and in administrative positions in universities in Asia-Pacific and the Arab States of the Persian Gulf.

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