"The University of Aristotele is shut. SOS," That’s what the posters covering campus this week say.
The protests in Greece are increasing after the government threatened to close down the University of Aristotele, Greece’s most important educational institution and also the biggest university in the Balkans.
The Dean of the University of Aristotele, Giannis Mylopoulos, explained last week in a public appearance that the prestigious institution, which has seen its budget been cut by 55 per cent, will be forced to shut down unless it receives additional funding. The given budget for the rest of the academic year adds up to almost 25 million euros. This amount is not sufficient to meet the basic needs of the university. To keep the institution functioning on a limited basis will require more than 36.4 million euros.
The cuts that have been taken in the education sector translate into real cost savings of over 54 per cent. This makes education the public sector that has been most affected by the new policies. The combination of the underfunding for this year’s needs and the accumulated debt from previous years (amounting to 1.65 million euros) means that it is extremely unlikely the university will continue to operate next semester.
Not only are thousands of students at risk of never graduating after years of effort studying, but nearly 4000 teaching and research staff have their careers at stake.
Early this week the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication gathered in protest. All ongoing classes were stopped to draw attention to the changes and the cuts that the government has proposed in the face of the public debt crisis.
Some have already lost their jobs. The Government decided not to renew the contracts of what are called the external contractors anymore. This category is no different from a regular lecturer except for two things: their contracts only last three months at a time and they are always the last ones to be paid. Dimitra Dimitrakopoulou has been an external lecturer at the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Aristotele for five years and has now lost her job.
"After five years of hard work at the university, everything has gone up in smoke. Neither have I been paid for this academic year yet, exempt of one payment in advance that I received a few days ago, which added up to the amount of 26 euros and 25 cents", Dimitrakopoulou told New Matilda.
As for other universities in Greece, many faculties are simply being shut down. So far the faculties that have been closed down at technical universities include the school of Technology and Electricity of Macedonia Technological Educational Institution (TEI), the School of Occupational Therapy of Macedonia TEI, and the school of Optical Optometry at the TEI of Epirus. As for the universities, the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Ioannina has been shut, as well as the Faculty of Asian studies at the University of Ionio.
The student community has started to show opposition too and has promised to stand by all the students who are at risk of losing their education. Adlida Haourani is active within the student community as an activist and as a regular enrolled student. She is very concerned about the future of the education sector in Greece.
"No one has the right to deprive the education of the citizens, it is against our rights and we will stand by every student and worker that is placed in that position. With massive student protests and participants from all the faculties in the country, I am sure that we can achieve a lot", says Haourani.
Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece with a population of almost two million inhabitants, is built around the student community. The hospitality, entertainment and real estate industries all feed off the nearly 100,000 students who arrive each year to study at Aristotele.
Fotis Papadopoulos is the owner of a restaurant in the centre of the city and is afraid that the closure of Aristotele will affect the whole restaurant business. "All the restaurant owners in Thessaloniki work with students and during the summer we struggle to keep our business alive as all the students leave to their hometowns. How will we survive if they are gone for good?"
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