October 5, 2012
Europe's Economic Crisis Hits Greek Universities Hard
To the Editor:
The economic crisis in Greece became apparent about two years ago and has attracted the attention of the international media. Severe austerity measures have been imposed on the public sector, including education. National funding has been cut by more than 50 percent. For instance, the funding (excluding salaries) of Aristotle University, one of the largest European universities, with more than 60,000 students, nowadays amounts to 25.5 million euros, or about $33-million—less than the annual income of Michael Jordan....
In addition, there will be very few university job openings in the next several years. And the salaries of university professors have been reduced by at least 40 percent (including forthcoming salary reductions). Because salaries were already low, compared with those of other countries, the reduction has led to salary levels that have now dropped below the minimum threshold required even for practicing science for its own sake.
All these measures were accompanied by a libelous attack by both the Greek press and the government that diminished the contributions of university professors to Greece's well-being, perhaps to justify the drastic measures. All of the above will: (a) seriously worsen university infrastructures for several years; (b) discourage Greek scientists working abroad from returning to Greece; and (c) lead to brain-drain. Competitive young scientists will abandon Greece and search for opportunities elsewhere to practice science with motivation and dignity.
As a result, the performance of Greek universities will deteriorate critically in the next several years. The situation is similar for the research and public-health sectors, with the "red line" having already been crossed. Portugal, Spain, and Italy are or will soon be in an analogous position because of the European Union austerity policy. Education, research, and health lie at the heart of civilization and form the basis for any economic growth. EU leaders should carefully reexamine their policy with respect to these societal pillars if they really care for the future of European civilizations and economies.
Konstantinos I. Stergiou
Athanassios C. Tsikliras
Department of Zoology
School of Biology
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki