The PJ Tatler

More Gloom for Greece

A Bloomberg report that appeared earlier this week provides another look into the gloomy scene that is Greece today.  This view is from the vantage point of higher eduction.

The report opens with the observation that ‘[i]n the universities of Athens, the city where Plato taught and Cicero studied, campuses are covered in anarchist graffiti, stray dogs run through buildings and students take lessons in Swedish with the aim of emigrating.”

Greek higher education still suffers from “reforms” initiated following the student-led socialist revolt against the 1970s military dictatorship. “As a result, Greek students have a significant role in the governance and administration of the universities, including a say in the hiring of the rectors in charge…. That power is often exploited by political parties, which have large and active youth branches, to fight reform”.

Under the country’s constitution, Greeks pay no tuition to attend university, so “there’s no incentive to leave college.”  Perhaps unsurprisingly, 43 percent of the college-aged population were enrolled in 2007, according to OECD statistics. “Yet only 18 percent graduate, one of the lowest rates in Europe.”

The party is over. With government funding cut by 23 percent since 2009, university buildings have no heat in the winter, faculty salaries have been cut, and hiring of new academics is delayed. Students report an atmosphere of pessimism, with unemployment among “active job seekers from 15 to 24 years old” at an astonishing 51% in December. The rate across all age groups is 21%.

Many students have essentially given up on finding employment in Greece and look for greener pastures abroad. For example, “Nancy Athanasopoulou, 20, a law student, is taking Swedish lessons with the hope of living and working in Sweden. In her language class of 20, only three plan to stay in Greece, she said.” And she quipped, “The whole class is planning on leaving for Sweden. . . . We hear it has a good economy, good salary, good working conditions.”

I seem to recall when Sweden was the socialist role model for folks who favor that sort of thing. Now Sweden has cut government spending, reigned in excessive benefits, and by comparison to Greece is an economic powerhouse. Greece is now seeking the same path, although under duress, having lived large for far too long.