Greek Universities against the use of the internet

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 21 July 2006

One of the biggest stories here in Greece at the moment is the government's proposed reform of tertiary education. They are proposing that private investment in universities be allowed for the first-time, and that a raft of other changes are made to bring education in Greece in line with EU legislation.

The reforms are also aimed at addressing some curious situations that arise in the Greek education system. There is no time limit to finishing a degree in Greece, and so people can remain what is known here as "life-long students" - never completing their course, but never ending their enrolment in academia. This year, the government had to raise the pass-mark for the national university entrance exams because of a shortage of spare places for the current intake - even though they know that many of the places are currently 'occupied' by 'students' who are no longer actively pursuing their studies.

These moves have been bitterly opposed by the students, the universities themselves, and at varying times and to varying degrees by the opposition parties. There has been a boycott of exams, widespread sit-ins, and clashes with the police at demonstrations in Athens.

One of the issues being addressed is the way that Greek students of social sciences are taught. It is apparently common practice for students to be issued a reading list for a course consisting of one book, usually written by the lecturer of the course. These books are purchased by the state for free distribution to the students, who then learn from and are tested on the one book.

As someone who studied a social science at a British university, it seems inconceivable to me that you could complete even a module on a degree course only having read one book. Even a good historiography on a subject doesn't give you anywhere near a complete picture of a topic. It seems that developing the process of comparative critical reasoning is not important to the Greek academic mind-set.

The initial proposed reviews suggested that this practice be discontinued, and that instead students should be offered a choice of books for a course, universities should have lending libraries, and students should also use the internet as a resource.

However, in the legislation going to the Greek parliament this reform has been watered down to the proposal that each subject should have a national set reading list as nominated by course lecturers from around the country, and that the books from this list will continue to be distributed to the students free of charge. The use of the internet as a resource tool seems to have disappeared.

I finished my tertiary education in 1994, so I never used the internet during my studies - but I would now find it unimaginable to be researching any subject and not use the internet.

Bizarrely it seems that in the UK, universities have to teach students that the internet isn't just for MySpace, downloading mp3s and instant messaging, but that you can "learn stuff" from it, whereas in Greece, the country with the lowest internet use in the EU, universities and the government are actively encouraging their students to believe that the internet is only for entertainment.

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