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.
In higher education in Greece, all universities are public, and the privatization of higher education is forbidden by the Constitution. Even so, the previous governments of Greece for a number of years attempted to amend the Constitution to allow the function of private universities and to facilitate a reactive change in the framework of the public universities to allow private enterprises to fund public education. In Greek universities because of previous battles that were won by the academic world, professors, clerical staff and students alike, hard- core neoliberalism had not succeeded in finding a solid foothold. Many decisions had been made under the Bologna process, but no tuition fees were implemented and universities were self-governing bodies. All of the neoliberal plans failed because of the massive protests by students and staff that erupted in the spring of 2006 and the winter of 2007 at the attempt to abolish the Article 16 of the Constitution that declares the free and public character of tertiary education. It was a victory with further implications since, as much as the government wants to, they still, at the present time, cannot demand fees from students for higher education nor can they make major decisions for universities, since they are still regarded self-governed.
That had to change, according to the political regime that was enforced by the Troika, despite the fact that there was resistance to it for more than a year. The attempt towards the neoliberalization of higher education through the law 4009/11, decreed that the universities would be ruled by Administrative Councils including substantial representation from business people. This proposal was dismissed by the majority of academia, who resisted for months. Despite that, more than 250 out of 300 MPs voted for that law. An immediate reaction of Greek academics was to start an international petition against this law, and more than 900 intellectuals from 46 countries supported it. Noam Chomsky, Slavoj Zizek, Henry Giroux, Dave Hill, Judith Butler, and others lent their voices to this petition in August 2011.
The new law set out that business men and women would be involved in the governance of universities. In order to bypass the Constitution that implied that universities are self-governing institutions, the law suggested an administrative committee made of staff inside the university that would elect the business persons who would then become the exterior administrative committee. The castle had to fall from within. So, the Administrative Councils had to be elected by the university professors of each university. The university professors refused and resisted to surrender the universities as a public good to private interests by using every possible means. All elections across the country were dismissed. The students were very active and supported this resistance. There was a massive reaction against the administrative councils that were declared in August 2011. More than 300 university departments across the country were occupied by students for more than a month. The Council of Rectors and Professors Unions all decided repeatedly against the reform.
This occurred at the first level of resistance. The law was then revised by the law 4075, of April 2012, and it was made mandatory to vote for or against the Administrative Councils electronically. At this point, electronic supervision became possible, and democratic principles, such as the secret ballot, were violated on a massive scale. Thus, the law was applied.
A major issue that was at stake in the new law was abandoning the concept of university asylum. Greece, due to the fact that the military junta was overthrown by students, had declared university spaces as spaces of asylum so that police could not enter university grounds/ buildings. It was a major issue for the political system because since democracy was under attack, free spaces had to vanish. By similar token, it was a major issue for students and democratic professors because democracy had to be protected. Unfortunately, the new law 4009/2011 eradicated the asylum principle.
After the implementation of the law and the construction of administrative committees, the next phase of the deconstruction of universities was the “Athena plan” (June 2013). In accordance with this plan, many university departments are closing or merging, shrinking dramatically in this way tertiary education in Greece (how cynical for the goddess of wisdom to have her name used like that). Many students resisted the closures of departments according to the spatial restructuring plan. They claimed that students might have started to study in Thessaloniki and find themselves having to continue in Chalkida, thus having their life plans severely impacted. Many students reacted to the plan by going on hunger strike. A serious implication of the “Athena plan” is the fact that fewer students, mainly those coming from the working class, are going to be educated in universities. It is obvious that there is an attempt to make changes in higher education by bending the Constitution in indirect ways.
The recent attempt to deconstruct Greek Higher Education was to fire 1.349 administrative and supportive staff in October 2013, namely librarians, administrators, technicians, guards, IT Managers, employees in the financial services, messengers. It is without explanation that these firings or transfers happened to some of the best Greek universities, which rank amongst the 200 best universities in the world (Thessaloniki, Athens, Metsovion Polytechnic School etc).
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.
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.