Α. Kazamias , D. Mattheou
The article goes on with probing into the Greek agenda on the matter and compares it with the international agenda on higher education in an attempt to provide an explanation for the Greek peculiarity in focusing primarily on the issue of private universities. Through a systematic exploration of the arguments pro and against their establishment, it comes to the conclusion that the debate constitutes in reality a substitute for the missing public deliberation on the necessary and long due reform of Greek higher education; a deliberation which is mainly prevented by an unproductive and non-dialectical political culture. Both sides in this debate, although they agree on the symptoms of the disease –“perennial students”, “flying” and “truant” professors etc– and they appreciate the need for the Greek university to respond to the challenges of late modernity, they fail to address the issue directly. In the grip of ideological differences, sectional interests and institutional inertia, participants in the debate frequently resort to a scrappy, occasional and generally disorientating discussion on private universities.
The article concludes that by evading the issue is most unlikely to avoid it at the end. What is actually needed is an in depth study of the broader socio-economic context within which the Greek university functions today and an open and sincere discussion of the proposed reform alternatives followed by the firm will of political and university authorities to put agreed policies into practice.
It is argued that higher education is a public good and that it should not therefore become commercialized. Yet, according to economic theory, it is only the inability to determine public demand –in the sense that the free use of the good can be excluded– that characterizes public good. This is not certainly the case with higher education, either in Greece or in other countries, as in all cases a number of private institutions are actually functioning in the area. On the other hand, had it been a public good no one should be excluded from its acquisition, as it is now the case with university candidates who fail to pass university entrance examinations.
As for the pending dangers from commercialization, one should look for its negative consequences not in higher education, which is mainly a vocationally oriented activity, but in pre-tertiary education where personalities are being formed and developed; yet, private schools are being allowed to function at this level providing high quality education.
The second argument against state monopoly in higher education is related to the state universities’ well known ineffectiveness in making the best use of existing resources; in providing value for money. Being actually directories of the Ministry of Education Greek universities have no incentive and capability to get rid of state bureaucracy and of the pressures exercised by several interest groups and to proceed to the necessary reforms.
Finally, state monopoly in higher education promotes social injustice. By subsidizing successful university candidates (education is provided free of any charge) and hence by increasing their chances for a well-paid job after graduation, it increases the gap between them and the rest. The latter are left with limited chances in the labour market, while at the same time they contribute through taxation to the former’s vocational qualifications.
On the contrary, the establishment of private universities presents a number of advantages. It would satisfy excessive demand for higher education; it would allow university candidates to study what they want, in the institution they wish, reducing at the same time family expenses for studying abroad or away from home; it would improve through competition the quality of the courses provided; it would make the distribution of limited public expenditure more rational and effective, as low quality universities would close due to the luck of students. What more, a high quality university system –including state and private institutions– would attract foreign students, as it is already the case with countries like Australia or even China.
What remains to be done therefore is for the government to proceed to the necessary radical reforms along the following three lines: State monopoly should be abolished. Universities should become really autonomous from the State and, finally, the system of free provision of higher education should be substituted by a system of student vouchers. In the meantime a number of more acceptable measures could be taken, including the evaluation of research and teaching, which at the same time could serve as the basis for financing individual universities.
The benefits of private higher education are demonstrated by the success stories of higher education in countries like Ireland and Finland whose education and economic systems are highly appreciated in the Greek society.
Given that the State itself is the actual cause of the malaise, the establishment of private universities cannot act as a remedy, let alone as a panacea. Private universities –by the very fact that they would function as universities– will have to function themselves under the same ineffective legal structure, while the imposition of their part of even excessive student fees could not cover the enormous expenses that proper research –the very essence of university studies– demands.
Therefore the only remedy is in the hands of the State: “he who injures should cure”.
Several objections can be lodged to such a vague appeal of the “market”. First, is it effective for the University to go after the shifting “needs”, rather than to concentrate on providing citizens with the education and effective knowledge / skills which would enable them to come up to the future challenge to acquire new competences, specialize or retrain? Every debate on expanding higher education should consider both the democratic argument of wider access to knowledge and the entrepreneurial argument of confronting inflexibility in the labor markets.
Second, such a claim overlooks the fact that there are a great deal of organizational models concerning the relationship between politics, the economy and society, resulting in different public-private configurations.
Third, this discourse subliminally identifies “society” with the “market”, conferring the discontent stemming from the diminished sensitivities of certain educational institutions to the needs of culturally diverse groups with instrumental discontent.
The second discourse is put forward by the groups which claim to stand for the “public character of the university”, while they essentially deny the European and global realities.
This discourse turns a blind eye to the need for setting up a congruent accountability framework for the University, accruing from its institutional features.
What is needed is an accountability and evaluation process which respects the autonomy of the University and designates institutions which do not aim to impose a certain model but to coordinate the exchange of information and experience and the search for best practices. Such an approach would require a form of “educational corporatism” which would not merely legitimate policy choices but rather impact the formation of the relevant policy area.
Complexities in formulating policies, as is often the case for the Greek system of education, can lead to the emergence of an extensive policy menu and policy ideas.
Profiteering and Emulation
There is presently a clash of ideologies concerning Greek universities: equality versus effectiveness seems to exemplify this clash. For its supporters the state university seemingly stands for the former; for its opponents the private university stands for the latter. In an attempt to reach an acceptable compromise, the establishment of a hybrid type of institution, the non-state, non- profit university, has been proposed. It could allegedly incorporate all the advantages and preclude all deficiencies of both parent institutions.
Yet, this hybrid institution is generally foredoomed to failure. In the first place, no real businessman would be willing to invest without any profit, unless he looks forward to gaining other kind of benefits (social status, political influence, fringe benefits etc.) On the other hand a non-profit university would have to rely on high student fees that only the rich could afford (a violation of the equity principle) or, alternatively, to rely on donations from big firms in which case they would determine research and teaching priorities (a violation of the common good principle and of the development of an all-round personality at the individual level). In any case the quality of university education is at state.
Private or non-profit universities are not therefore the proper cure for the malaise of the state university –it is actually the means to bypass its problems. What is really needed is the substantial financial support on the part of the state and the radical reform of the existed legal structure for higher education. It is only through such measures that the long standing problems of the university can be confronted.
Although the author rejects all arguments concerning the surplus – value of the private or non – state sector in the universities, he underlines that any legislation putting in order this matter should co–estimate the national planning, the conditions of functioning, the access of students, the curriculum, the status of academic staff etc, without authorizing many serious deviations from the ordinary regulations.
The control of these institutions must be assumed by the Parliament, the National Committee for Education and a special Independent Authority.
Jason N. Johnson & Clifton F. Conrad
Furthermore, the article underlines the antinomy concerning the fact that Greece puts in high priority an issue which is out of the current European agenda, while at the same time Greece is the country which shows the highest delay and one of the strongest resistances in the implementation of the real objectives of the Bologna Process (e.g. the establishment of a national quality assurance system, the introduction of ECTS and Diploma Supplement, the ratification of the Lisbon Recognition Convention etc.).
According to the article, the existence of private or non-profit non-state Universities is a reality in many European countries, which has resulted under specific historical and political circumstances and through diverse processes. In Europe we can identify both good practices and bad practices in that field. However, this issue has not been included in the European higher education agenda so far. The only indirect reference can be found in the phrasing of the Berlin Communiqué and the Prague Communiqué that “Higher education is a public good and a public responsibility”. The reference to the public responsibility has been used in order to cover the state responsibility for laws and regulations governing all types of higher education institutions (state-run, private, non-profit non-state).
The article concludes with the requirements under which the debate on private or non-profit non-state higher education institutions could be accomplished in Greece, even out of the European agenda. Primary requirement, according to the article, should be that the supporters of the necessity for private or non-profit non-state higher education institutions present and analyse their proposals and their arguments and stop remaining silent, as is the case so far. Furthermore, the article sets a number of concrete questions to which the supporters of the proposals are invited to answer clearly.
In the meanwhile, the article deals with two issues which are connected to the affair of private or non-profit non-state higher education institutions, at least in the context of the debate occurring in Greece. First issue is the concept of the entrepreneurial functioning of the higher education institutions seeking for resources other than the state funding in order to face the financial cuts of the last decade. According to the article, it is necessary to distinguish this type of functioning of the institutions from the overall discussions on private or non-profit non-state higher education institutions.
And second issue is the one related to the existence of private educational enterprises in Greece which provide higher education services, cooperating on a franchising basis with Universities from other countries, against the Greek Constitution which reserves exclusively to the state the right to provide higher education. According to the article, the Greek Government has to set a clear policy to that end. If the Greek Government has the view that these enterprises are functioning on an illegal basis, then it has to take away their licences. If, in contrary, the Government considers the functioning of these enterprises as legal, then it should establish a system of accreditation for them.
Recently, a rapid increase in the number of private universities throughout the country is clearly visible. Today, the number of the private universities accounts for 23 of 76 universities. The enrollment in these private universities accounts for 6.2 per cent of all students in higher education. The number of faculties in these universities accounts for 6.6 per cent of all faculties in all universities. Most of the private universities are located in İstanbul, Ankara and Izmir and the instruction in these universities are implemented in a foreign language. Expansion of the private universities can contribute to increase the schooling rate, which is 18 percent now at the higher education level.
The point is that there has always been an effort to change universities in Turkey to respond to the needs of the society whereas universities generally have been institutions that change society. A suggestion for the private universities is that they should look for strategies that make them unique- not same or similar. Some of them may concentrate on graduate education while some them on research, or social sciences etc.