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Greece Set to Approve Private Universities Bill as Thousands Protest in Athens

Student protest Athens
Students and teachers from all over Greece, protest the new Education bill that will allow the operation of private universities. Credit: AMNA

Thousands of students are protesting in Athens, Greece the bill on private universities which would become law after a vote in the Parliament later on Friday.

The government bill is expected to be approved by a 150-plus majority in the 300-strong assembly.

Students from all over Greece, teachers unions, and labor unions are protesting in a rally in Syntagma Square opposite the Parliament building calling for “free education for all”.

Student unions believe the move will devalue degrees from Greece’s public universities and that the private system will exclude those who cannot afford it.

They are demanding, the withdrawal of the bill, exclusively public and truly free studies, an increase in state funding for universities for teachers, staff, infrastructure, degrees with value and free student care for all.

Although private higher education is already legal in Greece, the new law would make degrees from vetted private institutions equivalent to public universities. Overseas universities would be allowed to open branches in Greece using a nonprofit status despite charging tuition fees.

Mitsotakis defends bill on private universities in Greece

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Friday defended a bill allowing, under certain conditions, the establishment of branches of foreign universities in Greece for the first time, saying that reforms would have a positive knock-on effect on their public counterparts.

“Finally, non-state, non-profit institutions will operate in our country,” Mitsotakis said, highlighting that students will now have more options to pursue higher education within Greece.

“More than 40,000 Greeks study abroad. We aim to enable young people to attend reputable international universities without needing to leave their homeland,” he said.

The conservative premier stressed that the primary objective is to modernize state universities, noting that 85 percent of the bill’s provisions relate to public institutions. He added that the bill anticipates funding reaching 1.5 billion euros by 2027, in addition to the annual allocation exceeding 1 billion euros.

“Greek universities will have the capacity to welcome foreign students, who will also be liable for tuition fees,” he said. “Greece can assert itself on the educational stage,” he added.

“It’s clear that we’re not reinventing the wheel. We’re introducing in our country what is still applicable even in North Korea. We stand as one of the few countries, along with Cuba, maintaining stringent state control in the education sector,” he said.

Opposition blasts bill

Main opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance parliamentary spokesperson Sokratis Famellos on Friday accused the government of “trampling on the dreams of young people and the Constitution” in order to further the interests and profits of “a handful of cronies and a few funds.”

He said that the government’s bill was effectively saying to the young people protesting for free state education “that they do not have the right to study if they do not have the money.”

“The [government] is introducing the concept of meritocracy paid by tuition fees. Whoever has money will study: the power of privilege,” SYRIZA MP Harris Mamoulakis, said during the parliamentary debate.

Socialist PASOK is also against the bill, although it is believed that some of its lawmakers could vote in favor.

“The founding of non-state, non-profit branches of foreign universities that the ruling majority is voting for is a fake reform that does not provide an overall answer to the impasses facing public education in our country at all levels,” PASOK-Movement for Change leader Nikos Androulakis said.

“We do not trust that you really intend to strengthen state education and public universities. We don’t believe that your plan aims at the foundation of truly non-state, non-profit universities that will contribute to an overall improvement of education in Greece,” Androulakis added.

In Greece, universities have always been state-owned entities, and their faculty are civil servants, paid by the government.

The ban 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 it would give Greek students more choice and flexibility and help meet the growing demand for higher education.

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