National Technical University of Athens: A pillar of free knowledge in danger

Nikos Belavilas, Assistant Prof., School of Architecture NTUA

The article was published in the Greek newspaper «Η Αυγή-Ενθέματα» on September 15, 2013. Translated by Maria Kalantzopoulou.

A journalist from a north-european country called yesterday at the Strike Support Centre at the School of Architecture of Athens. He asked for information on the universities’ strike, the crisis and its repercussions on National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) in particular, on the dismissal of staff and the spending cuts. We’ve been talking over all of it for about an hour or so. He was a gentleman, one of that kind of journalists that is hard to find in Greece nowadays.  He was giving me the impression that he wouldn’t like to round the subject arbitrarily, that he was asking for persuasive and interesting information. Thus, I found myself, looking for argumentation, and an as much as possible objective explanation of reality; and at the same time to be surprised by the actual size of the problem created by the immediate dismissal of 60% of NTUA’s administrative staff or by the already announced dismissal some time soon of 40% of the educational staff of Greek Universities.

The largest eight Greek universities are on their 7th week of strike, since September 5, 2013, trying to stop the dismissal of 50% of their staff

Why would a government sack the majority of employees of the country’s greatest technological academic institute? National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) comprises nine historical schools. It educates around 20.000 undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students. It’s running 125 research labs, a very important technological and cultural park in Lavrion-Attica, a research centre in Metsovo-Epirus, the country’s largest technical library, one of the best network centres. In other words It consists of some of the best university infrastructure in the Balkans.

Are the employees of NTUA redundant? The answer is no. On the contrary, it even needs 10% more of them. Are its professors and educational staff redundant? Again, no. NTUA has already lost due to retirement almost 300 educational positions and all of the positions for teaching under fixed contract. Professor Dimitris Damigos published a good article under the title “The role of Universities’ auxiliary staff and the ticking time bomb of suspension” (, in Greek). It makes reference of international standards in students-staff ratio in universities, showing thus that our universities are lagging behind compared to those standards. From the other side, the government’s side, there hasn’t been reference to any evidence whatsoever that would explain the political decision behind massive suspension of employees.

Is NTUA wasteful? Should there be applied spending cuts? One institution that along the last 20 years created a reserve fund of 55 million euros, coming from research, deriving funds from anywhere but the budget of the Ministry of Education, can it be considered wasteful? Those are funds that are entering not thanks to government, but thanks to professors and young researchers from sources within and outside Greece funding research programmes and as a sum they are “recycled” again to support education and research. Instead of being supported and diffused this successful activity it’s being punished through salary cuts, dismissals and dispossession of 30 million euros from the university’s reserve fund.

Are NTUA’s diplomas satisfactory or have they been degraded? There has been a systematic campaign, already since the successful rallies against the revision of Article 16 of the Greek Constitution (took place in 2007, against the abolition of public education), by all subsequent ministers of Education and the mainstream media, so as to convince the Greek society that NTUA is a troublesome institution offering degraded diplomas. The answer lies in the curriculum of studies, the  CV of academic staff, in the laboratories, the professional, educational and research career of its graduates both in and outside Greece. NTUA is a prestigious and first class educational institution. So simple as that!

Yet, given that all those facts are not always obvious for an outsider and face to that organized libel campaign, there do exist even easier answers. Let’s talk for a while using the jargon of all public prosecutors, ministers and media. We would tell them then, that there is no Greek family that doesn’t dream of having its descendant/s studying at the NTUA. There is no boy or girl interested in technical education that does not desire studying at NTUA. In even fewer words, how come the “elite” of Greek pupils is incessantly and passionately contesting the opportunity to study at this so problematic –according to dominant discourse- institution? But, even leaving aside all that, international ranking brings out 6 Greek universities, topped by University of Athens and NTUA amongst the top 5% at a global scale, with NTUA ranking among the 10 best in Europe in terms of research. Is this possible to still happen after all 3 years of dissolution and bleeding out of staff, funds and salaries? Is it possible not to be mentioned or praised by any newscast at all? Yes, all of that is certainly happening, no matter how improbable it may seem.

We’re reaching the end of the question-answer scheme. Is it possible the most sought after technological institution of the country, an economically self-sufficient one, a prestigious one, to be leaded towards a de facto disintegration or even cease of function?

NTUA, an educational institution offering free education for all, innovation, technological primacy and social sensibility, constitutes an efficient, productive scientific “engine” belonging to the Greek people. This is what they’re trying to get rid off…

Try to recall or investigate libraries, encyclopedias or the net to locate more than one or two successful ministers of Education, that have left memorable work in the field, since the establishment of the modern Greek state in the 19th century. It’s going to be rather hard. If you try the same with NTUA’s professors and graduates, Greek engineers, you’ll be surprised by the number of people that have contributed substantially to the matter of scientific and technological evolution, and social progress in our country.

NTUA, an educational institution offering free education for all, innovation, technological primacy and social sensibility, constitutes an efficient, productive scientific “engine” belonging to the Greek people. This is what they’re trying to get rid off ; to efface a public and democratic institution that is actually in a position to contribute to exiting the crisis, as well as to the social and productive reconstruction, the same way it did twice more in the past, in and after WW II and in and after Military Dictatorship 1967-74. It’s not by accident or incompetence of the political leadership. In order to conclude the looting of the country’s commodities and wealth producing resources, in order to remove the common wealth of our people, it is necessary to destroy even the infrastructure that defends and utilizes this wealth, both material and immaterial. All pillars of free knowledge, central universities of the country that provide scientists equipped with knowledge and critical mind must collapse. All those begetting that task, naively, believe they’re going to accomplish it.

NTUA: A pillar of free knowledge in danger

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