The struggle in the Greek universities
Greek university education is going through the most critical phase in its entire history, because the Ministry of Education is implementing a harsh mobility scheme for the administrative and technical staff of the country’s eight largest universities, reports Sissy Velissariou.
This scheme calls for mandatory transfers that in fact disguise the truth – that the largest number of these people will eventually be fired. Of the two major universities, the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (UoA) and the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), which are being worst hit, the former will lose 40% of its staff and the latter 45%: in short these institutions will be unable to function.
The “mobility” scheme for the universities which are, by law, self-governed institutions, was not discussed with their administration prior to the government’s attempt to enforce its decision. Therefore, it is a plan which is in direct conflict with the institutions’ internal evaluations carried out according to government guidelines. According to the institutions themselves they are in fact, understaffed. For example, in the UoA there are 1,316 employees for 65,682 students and 1,974 academic staff whereas the University claims that a minimum of administrative and technical staff required is 1,917. It is understaffed by 601 employees, the administrative-technical staff and student ratio being 1.66 to 100, when, for example, in British universities the average is 7.9 to 100 and in American universities an average of 9.5 to 100.
The Resistance Movement
For the past 6 weeks both the employees and the academic staff of UoA and NTUA have been on strike while at the same time the function of the two universities has been suspended. In Greece there has been a long history of a powerful university resistance movement against destructive governmental policies such as, for example, the implementation of the Bologna Process and the attempted “coup” to abolish the Article 16 of the Constitution that declares the free and public character of tertiary education. However this is the first time that the usual barriers between administrative staff and academics have been abolished within and by the same struggle on the basis of the common awareness that if the “mobility” measures of the neoliberal government pass this will be the end of the two universities. The mergers of whole schools and departments will ensue, something that will threaten the academic staff itself. It is obvious that the employees to be fired is the first link in the chain of academic redundancies, already and silently implemented by the firing of academic staff under contract. The struggle of the whole academic community is grounded on the development of solidarity and support first of the academic staff who will suffer a severe financial loss for being on strike but also of the administrative and technical staff of other universities, who are not presently hit, towards their colleagues.
This massive movement has been multifaceted and has taken original forms. I’ll focus on a specifically hegemonic appropriation of formal university ceremonies as well as the premises where they take place. The unions of the teaching staff of the UoA and of the NTUA in cooperation with the unions of the employees of the two universities organized the opening of the new academic year for their freshmen in two parallel events held on 9 October 2013. The idea was to offer an alternative welcome where the new students and their parents, misguided by the systematic propaganda of the powerful media against the mobilizations, would be informed by their own teachers on strike about the real reasons for the strike. These groundbreaking events turned out to be hugely successful since approx. 4,000 students and parents turned out in the UoA and approx. 1,500 in the NTUA. Speaking of the UoA, this unexpected massive attendance made the organizers open the meeting onto the area of Propylaia outside the large ceremony hall! During this exciting ceremony also attended by the Presidents of the School of Law and Theology the Rector congratulated the freshmen for their successful entry into an institution that is internationally ranked as belonging to the 1,26% best universities of the world. He called for their understanding and support for the situation making emphatically clear that the personal cost for the loss of the Fall semester is less important than the condemnation of the new generations to downgraded and poor education and the sinking of Greece into ignorance. As he said, “the university has been open to social struggle for many decades. It is high time that it defended its own survival”, phrases that were applauded by the students. He closed his speech by challenging the Ministry that has demanded the official persecution of those Rectors who are unruly: “I have done no offence of any kind. Let them arrest me!”
The message from this highly original event whereby the academic community on strike summons the students for an alternative welcome was that the true university is here in its historical building and it cares and fights for the protection of its academic quality, its democratic function. Last but not least the academic community fights for the future of Greece within the chaos and catastrophe brought upon it by the Memorandum and the government that slavishly tries to enforce upon us all.
Protect Status and Staff of Greek Universities
Eight universities in Greece (University of Athens, the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki the Athens Polytechnic and University of Economics and Business as well as the University of Crete, Ioannina, Thessaly and Patras) have been forced to halt all activities as a result of Greek ministry of education proposals to suspend unilaterally 1349 university administrative workers.
The impact on teaching, research, clinical work and international collaboration is unparalleled and the threat to higher education in Greece as a result of stringently imposed EU austerity measures is a cause of great concern far beyond Greece’s shores.
As academics, university workers, students and others, we call on the EU and the Greek government to protect the status and staff of Greek universities, to ensure that they remain able to engage in education and research and to recognize that these institutions are more important now than ever.
They are and must remain beacons of critical thinking in a Europe whose social structures are being eroded by massive cutbacks and over which the shadow of far-right extremism looms.
Sign the petition here.