Although the stories about Greek economic collapse have appeared in the news for over a year, most ignore the real plight that the debt crisis has wrought on the hopes of Greek college students. The austerity measures introduced to reign in the budget deficit, and to meet the requirements of the European Union-backed bailout, have resulted in nearly 25% cuts in public spending on college education. The resulting drop in faculty salaries now has some promising academics thinking twice about pursuing teaching careers there, which is bad news for an economy like Greece whose future is going to be greatly tied to improving its education system.
There is a connection between investing in higher education and economic growth, said Thomas Estermann, heads of the funding and governance unit at the European University Association, which numbers 850 members in 47 countries including universities and groups related to higher education. For countries desperate for growth, cutting education spending “is a pretty grim prescription,” he said in an interview.
Young Greek college graduates are also facing a grim job market. The country, whose economic downturn is now entering its fifth year, is facing an unemployment rate of over 21% for all job-seekers, but over half the young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are unable to find work in the country. Combined with mandatory pay cuts being forced on many employees, the future looks very unpromising.
Elizabeth Iounnou, 22, an architecture student at the National Technical University of Athens, said that many of last year’s graduates don’t have permanent jobs and that she worries about her prospects. Her parents are suffering after a 20 percent pay cut “and when the time comes for us to work, it will be worse,” she said.
Greece is not alone in facing tough budgetary decisions in order to meet its obligations. In Spain, a newly elected center-right People’s Party government is planning on introducing cuts to education and health services in order to reduce expenses by 30 billion euros this year. The new Prime Minister Mariono Rajoy anticipates that the proposed cuts will be so unpopular with the citizenry, they will set off protests and demonstrations to rival Greece. Although the Government has already instituted several rounds of cuts that effected the budgets of government ministries and imposed 30% cuts across the board to salaries of public company employees, according to a congressional deputy, “the war begins in April.”
The deputy said that the government plans to pass reforms in April that will give regional leaders the power to hike university fees, which currently cover only 20 percent of costs, or to charge fees known as co-payments for doctor’s visits.
He said the labor market reform decreed by the government in February already gave regional leaders the power to enact collective lay-offs of public workers who are not civil servants, for example teachers.