First TNE campuses allowed in Greece

Published 15/04/2024

The Greek parliament narrowly passed a bill last month allowing overseas universities to establish branch campuses in the country, despite weeks of protests from students opposing the bill.

The legislation aims to mitigate the exodus of tens of thousands of Greek students to universities abroad and internationalise higher education, but students opposed to the bill said it would devalue degrees from state universities.

“Today more than 40,000 Greeks study abroad. It is a major source of brain drain. This gap we aspire to fill in part by allowing our young people to study in reputable international universities, without being forced to leave their homes,” announced prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on X.

He added that the bill would provide relief to family budgets, attract income from foreign investment, boost competition in higher education and lead to the creation of new jobs.

“Greece is traditionally a sender country. Greek students who didn’t enrol in state universities were obliged to pursue study abroad. Now, instead of emigrating, they can stay and study in prestigious university campuses in Greece,” Theodoros Papaioannou, director of Study in Greece told The PIE.

The legislation, that will come into effect from the academic year 2025/26, was passed by 159 votes in the 300-seat parliament.

Sokratis Famellos, leader of the opposition SYRIZA party, said that the legislation would make higher education a commodity in Greece, though it remains prohibited by law to charge students enrolling in Greek taught undergraduate programs at state universities.

As the bill was passed, student protestors rallied outside parliament holding banners reading “no to private universities” and one group of protesters clashed violently with the police, as reported by Reuters.

“I think that a large percentage of those that participate in these protests are ideologically driven.

“If we’re able to create a framework of healthy competition between non-state universities, international campus branches and Greek universities, I think it will be mutually beneficial.

“State universities will be more engaged globally so this new landscape will transform them and oblige them to evolve,” said Papaioannou.

In 2021, approximately 680,000 undergraduate and 120,000 postgraduate students were enrolled in Greek universities, but only 50% of those who enrolled made it to graduation, according to the national higher education authority.

“The government wants to modernise the Greek higher education landscape”

“The government wants to modernise the Greek higher education landscape and create two systems, one state and one non-state that will interact creatively with each other. Our vision is not to create competition that undermines Greek state universities,” said Papaioannou.

Greece saw more than 400,000 people leave the country after the 2008 financial crisis, many of whom were university graduates.

A 2019 survey found that 26% of those who emigrated held a degree, and 69% of masters and PhD students have moved mainly to European countries.

Since Mitsotakis initially came to power in 2019, Greece has pursued greater internationalisation and allowed some international language-taught masters programs.

In July 2022 the government changed the constitution to allow for universities to start offering bachelor’s English-taught programs.

Greece is the eighth most popular study destination of American students, and Papaioannou hopes that the new legislation will attract highly ranked universities from the US and the UK.

Currently, Cypriot universities receive a large proportion of Greek students and it is expected that these institutions will be the first to establish branch campuses in Greece.

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