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Academic freedom is misunderstood in Greece

24 November 2010 / 15:11:05  GRReporter
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The chaos in Greek higher education, the phenomenon of spoiled eternal students and the modern trends in higher education worldwide were the topics Marina Nikolova discussed with Prof. Spyros Amourgis, who is an architect and taught at some of the most prestigious universities around the world. Since 2006 he is the Director of the Hellenic Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

What is the purpose of the proposal for reform that the Ministry of Education made?  

There were about ten universities in Greece in 1960. In 2000 their number is forty, including universities and colleges, but the rules for their work have not been developed during these 40 years. When they were ten, the Minister gathered the ten managers and asked them about their needs. Тhis has not changed and there are no rules set yet. Many of the problems we face today begin there.

The aim of the Ministry of Education is to decentralize administration, i.e. the Ministry no longer to be obliged to approve Deans’ selection, to appoint lecturers, to determine the rules. The Ministry’s proposal is the universities to take these obligations. But to do this, there must be a control mechanism not by the state but the society. The proposal is to apply the system of the board of trustees under which there is university administration but there is a council of prominent citizens, educated, famous. They control the policy of the university, how much money it needs, how it will find it, in other words there is a dialogue and this is a form of self-control. This caused reactions since parties have entered universities. Parties attract students and a large percentage of the students vote for local government and there is a clientelist relationship. The Ministry proposed a system that will make universities more independent.  

A Kathimerini newspaper article written by three distinguished professors reads the antithesis of this proposal. According to the authors, maybe it is too early to implement this decentralization in an European type of university. Maybe it would be better to start with improvements and bottom-up changes. That is what should happen.

Would you tell me about the universities assessment? What are the first results and what should be done?

One department collects data – how many students have entered, what their marks are, how many have graduated, etc. – and prepares a report that goes to the central office of the university, which monitors the quality of education and whose president is the Dean for Academic Affairs. Every two years on the basis of these reports another report is being prepared for the administration that tells – here we have these problems in our departments and based on data asks if it can get subsidies. If it needs financing, the money are required from the Ministry, but the need for it is proven. In the fourth year students, lecturers and administrators revise the data collected. This report is being submitted to the Office of Education Assessment, which gathers a committee of other experts - lecturers that go to the faculty, talk with students, with lecturers and make a report to be returned to the faculty. A check is made whether there is anything wrong, the report is translated so that if someone is interesting in studying in this department he or she will be able to go online and see what they wrote. Or if a student wants to do a doctorate abroad, they are able to enter the page of the faculty he or shed graduated to see his or her marks.

You have got specific problems. Did you give suggestions for their solution?

We see there are problems that could be solved immediately. If you don’t go to an exam in Greek universities you do not get 0. A dash is marked which means you can go in for an examination each semester. This matters because it is essential for calculating the average score. It is not mandatory for students to attend lectures in Greece. But if they do not attend lectures how to determine how many lecturers are needed? In practice, the Greek taxpayer pays to provide enough lecturers to read lectures. And when students do not attend lectures the system does not work properly. Therefore, it is necessary to do something.

Second, to determine the order of the subjects to be taught and examinations to be passed because you can not become a doctor and get to the sixth course without having passed the exam in anatomy. This was not compulsory, there was academic freedom.

As for lecturers – will they read lectures only six hours a week?! They are doing research, but six hours are not enough. Lecturers in Europe and America read lectures at least ten hours a week and do the research in the rest of the time. For example, a philosophy lecturer teaches 100 students, then the lecturer takes 100 course works to correct them at home, which is to say another hundred hours. The lecturer gets one credit for each hour of teaching. I, as an architect, have to teach three hours to take a credit and a half, because I do not have course works to correct. I develop a project in the beginning of the semester, I give it to students and then I go to the studio and watch how they work. I ask them questions and then I go back home. Americans have developed this system very well and it is fair - it is linked to the number of students. It is not important how many hours you will read lectures but the hours during which you work after or before the lecture are reported and this forms the system of credits. So, there must be rules for the lecturers too.  

Tags: NewsEducationUniversitiesStudentsExamsLecturesCollegesMarksLecturers
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