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Liberalization of the educational system in Greece

Zoya Zaitseva, QS World MBA Tour, for Look4Studies.com

Greece is known for the very serious attitude to education and personal development since ancient times. For better or worse, the state has been always quite supportive to the scholars and the value of education is still on the top of the list among the key priorities every parent has for his child.

So what’s happening in the modern Greece? The need for the quality degree is still there, though the whole situation in the educational world is quite complicated. For many years the state universities have enjoyed a strong governmental support and had almost nothing to do in order to get the best candidates. No courses in any languages other than Greek resulted in a low level of the international students and challenges with the faculty exchange.

At the same time, there are thousands of Greek professionals working in Europe which proves that the international employers treat the education received in Greece on the same level as in any other country. In the most recent Times Higher QS World University Ranking 2008 four Greek universities were presented in the Top 500, one of them – University of Athens – on the 200 position in the global ranking, the highest among all of them. With the Bologna Accord signed and a new law, granting the alums of the private institutions the same rights as of the state ones, the future looks bright for the Greek education.

The historical conflict between the state and the private education is quite deep. When the first private companies where allowed to run education-related programs, many of them focused on the international degrees franchising. Which, in some cases, resulted in relatively low standards of the faculty, infrastructure and business ethic. Some Greek professionals even call it a “degree selling” which was quite a successful business at some point responding to the high demand from the candidates. But the situation is changing now. The state accreditation, international standards implementation and more information about education in general resulted in young Greeks knowing far more about the quality of education and how important it is to select the right university or business schools.

The new law regarding the employment rights of private universities graduates is also a good sign, showing that the government understands the importance of the quality control in education. Not that it will influence the decision-making process of the HR managers as they mainly base their opinions on the reputation of the universities rather than the ownership type. The key difference this law will make is the recruitment in the state organizations.

“The liberalization of the Greek educational system is a good move, - says Erato Paraschaki, Director of International Development at ALBA Business School. – It will push everyone to a “quality road” provided that is done openly with clear rules for all the players to abide by. It will need an independent accreditation body that will make sure that both private and public universities follow the same rules and criteria. This will help those institutions that still live in the past to reform and those who are up to date to do even better.”

Looking at the other examples of similar evolutions, we can see that the history of private education in the UK has been long and varied, with alternatives to state administered and funded established for hundreds of years. The majority of these educational institutions have been at the secondary school level, but in the last 10 to 15 years, an increasing number of private colleges have emerged offering viable alternatives to degree-awarding state-funded universities. 

“The only fully private university in the UK was established in 1973, when the University of Buckingham was incorporated as a non-profit making company and attracted its first students in 1976 with the complete support of the UK Government, - tells QS Tim Rogers, Global Education Consultant. - Since then, the University has focused on developing academic programs with a direct link to employment and careers, offering accelerated undergraduate degrees taught over two years.  Although funded in a different way from all other universities in the UK, Buckingham has enjoyed a good relationship with other institutions of higher education in the UK.  Its degrees are accepted internationally and the UK’s National Student Survey has recognised Buckingham as the top university in the UK for student satisfaction for the last three years.”

In the last five years, the growth of private colleges in the UK has been very rapid, causing some tension amongst teaching unions but very little interference from the UK Government. Offering a range of education programs, from university preparation courses to full degrees, private institutions have increasingly been seen as a viable alternative to the state system, which has had some difficulties in coping with the growth in demand for specific programs, particularly from international students.

Perhaps the single most significant feature of the development of private education in the UK has been the alliances more than 20 UK universities now have with private education providers to offer recognised academic courses, particularly as preparation for undergraduate and masters programs at the host institution.  Universities as varied as Coventry, Exeter, Sheffield and Sussex work closely with private education companies on their own campuses to teach and support international students for preparatory periods of between six months and a year before accepting them to full-degree programs.  Such relationships are now commonplace and a central feature in the continued development of UK higher education. Maybe we will see something similar in Greece in a number of years, too.

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