Wikileaks: US upset after Karamanlis government postpones education reform bill

Over the last few hours, even more Wikileaks cables have been released. This cable was documented during the period when Costas Karamanlis was in power. The US Embassy said in the cable that the mass student protests and  demonstrations against the then Education Minister’s reform plan, or M. Yiannakou’s plan, would be postponed (following a decision by Karamanlis) in the framework from obstructing vacationers to Greece from witnessing destructive demonstrations in central Athens, and easing the chaos that was going on in Greece at the time.

What is interesting about this cable, and which needs to be further analyzed are the intense interest of the US on Greek university reforms and the acceptance of private and non-private institutions which are as they note “a key interest” of theirs…? (And we all know how expensive college and university fees are in the US).

Another very interesting part of this cable is the reference to Education Ministry officials Veremis and Couloumbis, who they said were very disappointed with the postponement and believed it was a strategic step by the Karamanlis government to ease the chaos that was going on in Greece in light of the municipal and prefectural elections that were scheduled to occur in the late fall of that year.

Today, a new law, which was introduced voted by the Greek Parliament, recently, introduces a western-style administration of universities, with external individuals and non-academics taking part in the running of institutions and assessment-based and industry-oriented funding. The bill, that was drafted by Anna Diamantopoulou (yes the same Minister that was mentioned in other Wikileaks Cables as being very chummy chummy with the US Embassy) has not been received well in Greece and presently tens of universities are protesting as are students.

The new law is more “US” style than British if you ask me… Students are given a maximum amount of time to complete their courses, or face expulsion (so far so good); the so-far compulsory distribution of free course readers to students is abolished (this is also ok), but student loans come to the forefront and speculation says that this is a first step toward the introduction of undergraduate fees. Something that has never been implemented in Greece.






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1. (SBU) SUMMARY: In the face of continuing, mass student
protests and demonstrations, Education Minister Yiannakou
announced on June 13 that she would postpone submitting the
draft bill on education reforms during the summer parliament
recess as originally planned (Ref A). Sources told us the
Prime Minister ordered the retreat to prevent the throngs of
summer tourists from witnessing destructive demonstrations
in central Athens. Protests have lasted for over a month
and gained momentum during the past week.
General feeling is that the postponement is a political
defeat for the ruling New Democracy party, and the future of
necessary university reforms – especially the acceptance of
private, non-profit institutions, a key interest of ours —
is now uncertain. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) Greek Education Minister Marietta Yiannakou
announced on June 13 that she would not submit the
university reform bill to the summer parliament session as
she originally pledged, but would defer until the plenary
session beginning in October. In her announcement,
Yiannakou characterized the delay as necessary in order to
have additional dialogue with the university community “for
as long as necessary to arrive at the broadest possible
consensus.” The postponement was a reversal of statements
she made as late as June 12, in which she was determined to
introduce the proposed reforms to Parliament. (The reforms
had been discussed in principle for a year with the National
Committee on Education, and Yiannakou has stressed that
Greece should be harmonized with EU education directives by
2010, otherwise Greek university degrees run the risk of not
being recognized within the EU.) Protests and ongoing
university sit-ins continued even after the Minister’s
announcement, and on June 15 storefronts in central Athens
were again smashed and firebombed by a small number of
anarchists during an otherwise peaceable demonstration by
several thousand students. The next student protest is
planned for June 22.

3. (U) it is generally accepted that comprehensive reforms
of Greek higher education are long overdue. Proposed
changes would be two-dimensional, involving a) the
deregulation of higher education to allow and recognize
private, non-profit universities; and b) administrative
changes in the operation of existing universities that would
make them more manageable, efficient and quality based, but
would conflict with many vested interests. The two reforms
complement each other but the former requires a
constitutional amendment (that would not be ratified until
the next Parliament, if passed) while the latter, also known
as “the education framework law,” could be applied as soon
as it was passed by the current Parliament. Although
parliamentary debate this summer would have inevitably
involved discussion of the university deregulation issue,
the actual vote would have been on “the education framework
law.” Demonstrators seemed to confuse the two, perhaps on
purpose, linking the unpopular possibility of recognition of
private, non-profit institutions to the question of internal
reform within Greek universities.

4. (U) Press reports reflect this confusion of issues among
protesters and generally characterize the postponement as a
defeat for the GoG, and particularly for Minister Yiannakou
who has gone on record strongly advocating education reform.
Media also focus on how the decision caused tension within
the government as several ministers, notably Defence
Minister Meimarakis and Environment and Public Works
Minister Souflias, did not agree with the postponement.
Elite dailies To Vima (opposition) and Kathimerini
(generally pro-GoG) also speculate that the GoG decided on
postponement to avoid extreme student reaction of the kind
that broke out in France a few months ago that could
potentially disrupt Greece’s tourist season.

5. (SBU) Close Ministry of Education contacts Professors
Thanos Veremis, Head of the National Council on Education
(protect), and Ted Couloumbis, Director of ELIAMEP
(protect), Greece’s foremost think tank, agree that press
reports of the controversy are generally accurate and
confirm that the decision was the Prime Minister’s. Veremis
expressed strong disappointment over the postponement,
noting that the timeframe for real reform is now extremely
vague and that the GoG has lost face, credibility and
momentum. Couloumbis opined that the maneuver reflects the
ruling New Democracy party’s desire to maintain its edge
over the opposition PASOK party, whose leadership first

expressed doubts about the current path of reform following
the demonstrations. Couloumbis also said he believed the
GoG’s postponement was a petty political maneuver geared
towards upcoming municipal and prefectural elections.

6. (SBU) COMMENT: The government’s postponement in the
face of student protests is disappointing to us: a number
of U.S.-based private, non-profit universities operating
here would benefit from these reforms. While we are still
hopeful that the constitutional amendment to allow private
universities will pass by 2009, we are less confident of it.
Many forward-looking, frustrated academics also tell us that
without these reforms, the country’s under-competitive
universities will lag even further behind international
standards. Despite Yiannakou’s inability to forestall the
protests or cool tensions once they started, her cabinet
position does not seem to be in danger.

Source: thepressproject


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