The Pretext for Privatization of Greek Higher Education

From the Bologna Process to the Dismissal of a Dean – Published on transform, by Maria Nicolakaki, March 20, 2014.

Higher education reforms, by using a discourse of quality, competitiveness and “attractiveness” of the university, are of the most important risks going on in many countries, as they are connected not only with issues such as the denigration of university as a public good with the relative reduction of national funds, the promotion of entrepreneurship, marketization processes and commercialization of knowledge, but they are also connected with student-debt and control of the future generations.  

In order to achieve this, there have been multiple restructuring efforts on the inside of universities at the level of functions, relationships, professors, clerical staff and students. They have caused significant changes on the institutional, social, cultural, vocational and ideological levels.

Reforms in European Higher Education in various countries have been differentiated but move steadily towards what is called the EHEA (European Higher Education Area). Although many advocate the relevant autonomous nature of the Bologna process and its independence from the processes of European completion, the Bologna process is subsumed in the broader context of “Europeanization” and is subject to significant interpretations and influences by the broader process of European unification (Nikolakaki & Pasias, 2010). In specific, the content and the axons composing the general context of Bologna (compatibility, comparability, legibility, accreditation, attractiveness) move on parallel lines with the context of the Lisbon strategy (quality, accessibility, openness, convergence, competitiveness, mobility). However, both Bologna and Lisbon derive mainly from “regimes of truth” (globalization, economies of knowledge, risk societies, European completion) and are based on systems of knowledge (liberation of markets, economic efficacy, entrepreneurial logic), stemming from the field of economy and the market, that are controlled by the dominance of the neo-liberal paradigm and determined by concepts like: marketization, privatization, performativity, evaluation/assessment, regulation, technocracy, accountability, Open Method of Coordination.

The economic crisis in Greece is an “opportunity” for the political system. Under “debtocracy” many neoliberal measures that were inconceivable some years ago are being passed without as much as a nose bleed, thus, this crisis, and the denigration of the university, the academic character of the university as a public commodity is in retreat. The discourse and reform policies of the Troika, alternating in government over the past three years, occur on three levels: first, that of internal reform on the basis of neoliberal technocratic modernization of mainly structural-functional characteristics of higher education; second, that of adapting to, and fulfilling the requirements of the establishment of a modern “Panopticon” and third, that of restricting budgets for higher education by 40%. In this way, it is regarded that by depriving essential functions of the universities, it will be easier to replace by private interests … //

… The new managerialism in Greek Higher Education:

The newly formed Administrative Councils of the universities reflect an effort of the neoliberal reform. Specifically, people from the markets are appointed, and it is their task to make decisions about the future of higher education in Greece. This great transformation of governance of higher education can be read as surrendering universities and polytechnic schools to the markets. At the level of internal reform, there is clear evidence of the influence of a technocracy based economy characterized by, first, the ideology of the neoliberal model of the market; second, the promotion of management based on the “enterprise model”; and, third, the technocratic concept regarding assessment and accountability processes.

The bulk of criticism concerning the changes/reforms in the area of tertiary education under the Troika reform refers to processes of promoting the gradual deconstruction of the academic character and the decline of the university as a public good through the promotion of a neoliberal technocratic modernisation based on the “enterprise model” and “economic efficiency”.

And a fine example justifying that was administrated when the Administrative Councils of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, applying the provisions that the law 4009/2011 gave them on the decision-making for choosing between candidates for the position of Dean of the School, rejected the only bid for the occupation of the office of the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy. The Council’s decision did not contain any reasons whatsoever, merely referring to the minutes of the relevant meetings and those of the meetings of the committee appointed to evaluate the application. This raises itself a serious problem, since the law requires the Council to form its judgment based on the “merits” of electable candidates. One tip: the candidate Professor Eleni Karamolegou, although a conservative voter, resisted the demolition of Higher education, uniting with other political bodies in resistance.

The issue raised here is that the law gives such power to the Administrative Councils, which    is obviously undemocratic and authoritarian. It is unthinkable that anyone can freely submit candidacy for a prime minister, but a university professor cannot apply for a dean or rector without prior approval of the Administrative Councils. The default means that rulers have no confidence in the electoral process and want to control it. This approach is brutally insulting to the electorate. Since the dean or rector has to be voted for by the body of the university, what is the point of default candidates from the Administrative Council? It seems that the “mature members” of the Administrative Councils do not trust university professors to judge the candidates ability, but do it themselves, in their name.

But it is not the first time that the Administrative Council has shown its authoritarian role; it called the police to suppress student protests, it called to stop the heroic and righteous struggle of administrators against redundancies and availability, it welcomed the unfortunate referral of the Rector of the University of Athens Professor Pelegrini to a disciplinary body. Overall it is obvious to any critical and perceptive viewer that its role is deeply reactionary.

Conclusions:

As part of the resistance to neoliberalization of the Greek university, the following critical questions or issues have been raised by the Greek academia: State responsibility cannot be restricted to the proper functioning of evaluation, surveillance, and accountability mechanisms; the state cannot turn into a supervising agent but should be a guarantor of stability of the university’s function as a “public good” to the benefit of both sides. In other words, a basic issue concerning the role of “administrative councils” that was widely raised within Greek academia is the emergence and ascendancy of the ideology of a “sciento-technocratic hybridisation” and the creation of a neo-technocratic elite manager/technocrat. This is associated with radical changes in the “power-knowledge” relations concerning governmentality issues of higher education, about what/whose needs universities should serve, society’s, the individual’s, or the market’s.

This new technocracy is to establish “regimes of truth”, such as accountability, performativity etc., which legitimize and promote an educational “Panopticon” – governmentality based on surveillance via a framework of international rules, evaluation by technocrat-managers based on performativity, accountability based on efficiency in the attainment of target-oriented actions, funding contingent upon performance (Nikolakaki & Pasias, 2010). This is a major shift in the significance of higher education for society, which has always been, until now, the construction of the critical and well-rounded educated man/woman who fulfils his/her potential and gives real meaning  through his/her contribution to the public space, social and economic.

Given the anti-democratic neoliberal educational policies designed to debase democracy under the pretext of privatization, accountability, and “scientific” approaches to education, it behoves educators to embrace the call for a democratic education; not only as a counter-measure to the current assault on any and all things public, but also as means to participate more fully in the practice of democracy.
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