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Athens News Agency: News in English, 06-11-24
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 Gov't unwavering on higher ed reforms, PM stresses; opposition reactionThe government is unwavering in its intent to implement reforms in the higher education sector, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis stressed on Friday, opening an off-the-agenda Parliamentary debate on education, a session prompted by a Coalition of the Left (Synaspismos) tabled question amid extensive discussions currently in the east Mediterranean country about slipping education standards on all levels.
"The road of reform is non-negotiable," Karamanlis said, adding that his New Democracy government (ND) was open to dialogue, but all sides, however, were obliged to reach an outcome.
"We must all respond to the challenge of participation, synthesis, cooperation, collaboration," he added during a debate addressed by all four political party leaders represented in Parliament.
The premier's comments focused on the need for a "creative leap" in higher education, but also vis-?-vis reactions that the government's efforts were met with.
"Neither political forces nor the educational community can bow to the out-of-date view that demands that nothing be changed," he said, adding that this view meant remaining trapped in the past. "It means inertia in the face of society's needs and abandonment of the younger generation.
"We are obliged to act above and beyond the 'political cost' rationale," Karamanlis said, criticising those who put forward "different assessments and different approaches" that are "counter to the beginning of changes, even of those changes on which we agree".
Society and the citizens, he said, demand a responsible stance on everyone's part. "They demand positions that put an end to stagnation and lead forward, removed from prepossessions, biases and dogmatism, and away from cheap populism, evasion and groundless danger-mongering," the premier continued.
Describing the situation ND inherited from the preceding PASOK government, Karamanlis said the "supposed free education system ended up being one of the heaviest financial burdens for every family".
Karamanlis charged that universities and tertiary technological institutes "produce unemployed degree-holders" at a time when Greece holds the world record in the "export of (university) students".
And while the university was for decades considered the fundamental tool for professional, social and financial growth, "the stagnation of the Greek university, its inability to develop, has begun to restrict its contribution to social and financial development," the premier warned.
"This is the reality that grew out of the lack of daring, the inertia and the stagnation of the past," he said, adding that this is a reality "that for years now has been kept concealed under the protective shield of deeply conservative perceptions, 'least-effort' mentalities, and vested interests, but also, chiefly, under the shadow of an irresponsible populism which, although citing the interests of the economically weaker (social classes), in the end works against them".
Karamanlis called on all the political forces to contribute to changing that system through the upgrading of the public university. "This is our goal, which is mandated by the needs and demands of society, and by the prospect of the single European education area, from which we cannot exempt ourselves as the last remaining champions of conservatism".
He also called on all the sides to not limit themselves to a simple repetition of chronic observations, but to forge ahead with reform. "The issue cannot revolve around the question of what we can gain with what we have. The issue is what we are losing by refusing change; and we are losing much," he said.
"The cost of non-reform is great. The cost of stagnation is severe. I've said this before and I'll say it again: The biggest challenge is that of breaking the vicious circle of stagnation. And this has already begin," the premier added.
"The opportunities multiply for those who dare to make changes, who dare to introduce the necessary reforms," he concluded.
On his part, main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou submitted a series of measures for educational reform during the off-the-agenda debate, saying his party would hold a referendum on the issue when it comes to power.
Papandreou proposed the revision of Article XVI of the Constitution under which the state currently has the exclusive right to establish and operate higher education institutions, while he criticised the left wing parties for rejecting the Article's revision, noting that the change that PASOK proposed comprised only a small part of the educational issue, and added that it was "disorienting" to focus the entire discussion on the constitutional article banning non-state universities.
Within this framework, Papandreou outlined the changes that would commence, as he said, with PASOK's return to the government and which he said would be put to a referendum.
The measures included improvement of infrastructure, free laptops and access to speedy internet for university students who completed high school with an adequacy certification in foreign languages and computers; continuing education for teachers and pay hikes in conjunction with an evaluation system, as well as special incentives to attract teachers with specific credentials in outlying areas; all-day kindergartens and grammar schools with greater autonomy; pre-school education for everyone, from 3-yrs-old onward, guaranteed by the state; autonomy of tertiary institutions, with each university evaluated individually on the bases of stated goals; change of the university entrance system; entry of a candidate into a school and the university, and not into a specific department; increased expenditure for education aiming at reaching 5 percent of GDP, with the channelling of 40 percent of the 4th Community Support Framework package earmarked for Greece for human resources, and finally, linking education with research and production.
Papandreou said the government wasted its "big words" on consensus, while PASOK was in a position to contribute to the major reforms in the education sector.
The PASOK leader further outlined the common points and differences between PASOK's policy and that of the leftist parties.
Communist party of Greece (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga stressed that struggles in the education sector were, in her party's view, "an indication of hope and a healthy reaction to the class-based selections in the field of education" which, she added, were unabashedly being passed off as an "upgrading".
Papariga disagreed with changes to Article XVI, saying that such an eventuality would lead to major problems.
She said the differences in the positions maintained by ruling New Democracy and main opposition PASOK were "insignificant", given that the solutions proposed by the two large and "mainstream" parties both served the interests of the private universities and would lead to a further decline of the public universities' social role.
Coalition of the Left (Synaspismos) leader Alekos Alavanos placed emphasis on public education, saying he was open to dialogue "but not to authoritarianism", while he criticised the premier, saying the latter's address resembled a campaign platform.
"I'm confused. I don't know whether we're in the spring of 2004 (run-up to the last general elections) or in the autumn of 2006, with you in the government? Or, if you are addressing your vision to teachers who were on the streets for a month-and-a-half? There's a great distance between what you are saying and those you are saying it to ... An across-the-board crisis that only the state can resolve with radical interventions and reforms. Synaspismos wants dialogue on education, but the government should have organised it," Alavanos said.
"What you are saying is not reform, because it goes against university professors, primary and secondary school teachers; against the students and pupils. With what allies will you proceed with reforms? Who are your allies besides certain education centres or private foreign universities?" he asked.
Stressing the key importance of public universities, Alavanos said: "We would like a discussion, dialogue and common points among the political forces. But we have old accounts with the conservative party. Despite that, however, we are willing to sit down and discuss, but not to subjugate ourselves".
"Greece is the country with the smallest expenditure in education. It gives 3.1 percent (of budget expenditure) to education and 4.2 percent to defence. You pledged to increase the expenditures for education in the current four-year term (in government), and today, what are you applauding? That you remained at 3.1 percent?" Alavanos continued.
"The university is in a state of siege. You are preparing to lower the flag from Greek universities. We will not allow it. The message from everyone is that education is not for sale," Alavanos said.
Caption: Karamanlis in Parliament on Friday, Nov. 24, 2006. ANA-MPA photo
 PASOK leader in Paris on SundayMain opposition PASOK leader and Socialist International (SI) President George Papandreou will travel to Paris on Sunday at the invitation of Segolene Royal, the Socialist party's presidential hopeful in next year's elections in France.
Papandreou will address a French Socialist Party conference convened for the official nomination of Royal as the party's presidential candidate.
Caption: PASOK leader George Papandreou. ANA-MPA photo.
 Trade deficit up 1.0% in Sept., yr/yrGreece's trade deficit rose 1.0 percent in September, up from the same month last year, the National Statistics Service said on Friday.
The statistics service, in a report, noted that the trade deficit rose 9.9 percent in the January-September period, while excluding oil products, the shortfall rose by 6.6 percent over the same period.
The value of import-arrivals totalled 35.652 billion euros in the nine-month period from January to September, up from 31.494 billion euros in the same period last year -- an increase of 13.2 percent -- while the value of export-deliveries totalled 12.22 billion euros from 10.166 billion euros over the same period respectively, an increase of 20.2 percent.
Caption: A file photo shows Chinese containers at the port of Thessaloniki. ANA-MPA photo / N. Arvanitidis.
 Papoulias opens pensioners' summitPresident of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Friday inaugurated here the first-ever session of a conference by the newly confederation of Greek pensioners, a grouping that will bring together all of the organisations representing pensioners and retirees in the country -- a substantial portion of the population in the east Mediterranean country.
In his address, the 77-year-old Papoulias said pensioners deserve, and what they at times vigorously demand, a dignified life, "I am proud their struggles, and the more united you are, the more effective you will be."
Caption: Papoulias addresses the conference on Friday, Nov. 24, 2006. ANA-MPA photo / M. Kiaou.
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