Constant Meddling in University Admissions Undermines Education in Greece

The Greek university entry exams system has been an issue that torments students and parents for decades. In the past thirty years there have been ten changes in the system. However, instead of making the life of students easier, they seem more like experiments than solutions to the problem.

Every time the education ministry announces changes in higher education and the university admission system, the phrase “our kids will be used as guinea pigs again” is on the lips of parents and teachers, to the point that is has even become a cliche.

The frequent changes in the high school curriculum and the admission system generate more confusion and anxiety to students and parents. They are announced in the middle of the school year and students who are about to graduate from high school do not know what to expect by the end of the term.

The Greek education ministry on Monday brought up for debate yet another bill on higher education, announcing changes in university entry exams, which has generated reactions from teachers and students.

The stipulation about university entry exams will be the eleventh change in the last thirty years, adding more confusion for high school students and their parents.

The bill calls for a merger of universities with their respective regional technical colleges, aiming at the integration of higher education in Greece. It also introduces a new university admissions system, with a new feature called “Open Access Departments.”

Education Minister Costas Gavroglou stated that the new bill “will put an end to the duality in higher education and change the philosophy of high school,” without expalining further.

The Greek Federation of Secondary Education State School Teachers stated that the changes further downgrade general education and general knowledge in the senior high school year by reducing the teaching of basic subjects and undermining the pedagogical character of high school.

Meddling with the university admission system a chronic problem

Since 1974, Greece has seen a total of 31 different education ministers, meaning that, on average, there is a new education minister every year and a half. As is now typical, three different ministers have occupied the position already during the SYRIZA administration.

Unfortunately for students and parents, most of them wanted to leave their mark during their term, and carve their name in Greek education forever. The thorny issue of the university entry system has been one that several of them saw as a challenge that would make them heroes if undertaken.

Some of them have their name engraved in the collective memory: the “Arsenis Law,” the “Diamantopoulou Law,” and the “Arvanitopoulos Law” come to mind. The first caused a great uprising of students in the 1990s; the other two are fairly recent. All three names have negative connotations.

Another reason the university admission exams system changes so often is that education ministers use it as canvassing for the benefit of the ruling party.

Since Greek parents consider it one of the most important things in the world to place a child at a university, the higher education entry system can be used as a lure for parents and high school graduates who are of voting age.

For instance, Minister Gavroglou has often announced that university entry exams will be abolished altogether, giving hope to students and parents alike that they will not have to go through the examination ordeal. For any government, high school students and their families are a good pool of voters, especially if election time is near.

Despite all the changes aimed at improving the system, students have just become more and more frustrated over the years. The changes, which are often announced in the middle of the school year, leave high school students confused, not knowing how the university entry exam system will work when they graduate.

The constant changes and the ambiguity in the higher education system leads many high school graduates to abandon the Greek system altogether and go to study abroad, thus contributing greatly to the brain drain. Greeks who go to study in another country are more likely to stay there after they graduate than return home.

The brain drain is also evidence of another pathology of the Greek higher education system which has not been solved in 45 years: The complete detachment of Greek universities from the labor market. There is no such thing as career orientation for university students in Greece. This is a taboo issue which, inexplicably, no education minister has ever addressed.

Another issue that remains unresolved is the point system, which in most cases has students entering to a school they have not chosen because their exam grades are lower than needed to get them in.

For instance, if a student wants to go to medical school – which is the top choice – they have to have earned at least 19,000 points. If they score, for example, 17,000 points, they can enter a school of engineering, which is also a much sought-after school.

Often, once students enter a school, they choose to stay there although they don’t even like it or have a real interest in it.

As a result, there are a great many frustrated students in Greek universities. And many more graduates who finished a school they didn’t care about and are suffering in jobs they probably never wanted in the first place.