“The private university discourse in Greece. A blind for the lingering reform of public higher education ”
Over the last two decades the issue of establishing private or, alternatively, non-state, non-profitable universities is at the centre of debates concerning higher education in Greece. The article explores the issue from a number of perspectives in an attempt to pin-point its real significance to policy making. It starts with the identification of the conceptual confusion pertaining the use of the term “private” as it relates to universities. It is argued that the term is given several meanings in the public debate. On certain occasions it is used to indicate the private proprietorship status of an institution and its profiteering character. On some other it refers either to non-state but non-profit organizations or, alternatively, to state institutions functioning however in an enterprising spirit.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.