By Eva Kekou, 4Humanities International Correspondent
As part of the latest austerity package dictated by the European Union/International Monetary Fund/European Central Bank, the Greek government has announced new extreme wage cuts. For faculty members these reductions will reach 35%, and these are on top of the reductions that have already been implemented in the past years. This will mean university lecturers will be getting paid less than 950 euros per month and professors less than 1900 (after 35 years of service).
The same austerity package includes even more new cuts for university budgets – excluding faculty and administrative pay, which comes directly from the ministry, where budgets are already reduced by 60-70% – and the complete elimination of funding for adjunct faculty in universities (it is already down by 65%) and drastic cuts to this funding in technical higher education institutions. This will lead to mass layoffs of hundreds of adjunct lecturers and instructors. At the same time, more than 700 elected faculty members still wait for their appointments, with the government insisting that their appointments will take 8-9 years because of a Troika-imposed freeze on new public sector hiring.
The Greek government insists on implementing a neoliberal reform of higher education management (Laws 4009/11 and 4076/12) that will introduce oligarchic ‘university boards’ headed by representatives from the “business world.” This will significantly reduce the role of senates and department assemblies, turn rectors into university managers, eliminate student participation, impose tuition fees on graduate programs, eliminate the gratis provision of textbooks, undermine the autonomy of departments as the main academic units, and – above all – it will be a decisive step in the attempt to impose “Bologna process” course and degree structures. This legislation was first introduced in August 2011 but a wave of protests, occupations and collective disobedience led to the postponement of most “university board” elections.
The Greek government has also announced a plan for a “spatial restructuring” of higher education, meaning the closure of many university departments and schools and the shrinkage of higher education as a whole, reversing a historical trend towards the expansion of higher education.
All of these changes have caused anger and despair among academics and students. Greece is already experiencing a “brain-drain” through the mass migration of young researchers. Even the openly pro-government POSDEP, the federation of university professors and lecturers, has called for strike action – albeit only against wage cuts, since it openly supports neoliberal reforms. However, most university union assemblies oppose not only wage cuts but also budget cuts, and these unions have called for strike actions and for the unification of students and administrative/technical staff in the struggle. The general strike on September 26 offered an opportunity for the university movement to meet in struggle with the rest of the labour movement. Additionally, as a result of these cuts and austerity measures, university departments will have to close down, leaving students in an awkward situation because in Greece you cannot transfer credits to another university or department. Thus, many departments have been discussing mergers; for example, the Department of Product Design at the University of the Aegean on the island of Syros has been discussing this as a way to combat its urgent situation for a long while.
All of this is made even more difficult by the fact that, at the moment, many Greek families are facing extreme financial problems. Due to the complexity of the Greek law and the numerous clauses of the universities, students must pass difficult exams to determine the university they will be allowed to attend. After being assigned their university, students cannot make any changes to the place or department. For example, if a student, according to his grades, is allowed to study at a department in Rhodes, this student has to go study in that particular department and finance his life in Rhodes. It doesn’t matter if his family members, who may all be unemployed and unable to help him finance his studies, live in Athens. At the moment in Greece there is no financial aid – in the form of scholarships, positions as workers in dormitories or aid for meals, for example – for such situations. This is extremely difficult as a student needs an average of 800-900 Euros a month to pay for rent for a one bedroom flat and living costs. The cost of living is getting higher and higher, and all bills include a lot of taxes and money that must be paid to the government. Even without consuming anything, for example, you have to pay an annual fee to the state, which is added on to the electricity bill so the state can cover the money it owes. Of course, this causes a lot of problems for students, their families and for people who still teach at universities (this number is getting less and less and many have been made redundant or have tried to go elsewhere). Adjunct lecturers, for example, have not been paid for over 8 months. Also, although it is very cruel, most Ph.D. students receive no scholarships or funding (only a few students receive a Onassis foundation scholarship or a scholarship from similar organizations). In most cases there are also no research teams or labs, so graduate students must carry out their research alone and without adequate support.
Greece used to be proud of its free education, as students do not pay fees nor do they have to pay for university books. But, these days, we are all wondering what exactly freedom means. For the students, instructors, and families who are suffering, a “free” education seems to be just another phrase without any real meaning.