BRUSSELS – Announcements of imminent closures at two universities in Greece, the Capodistrian National University of Athens and Polytechnic University of Athens, followed by several others, show the dark reality behind the austerity policies run in Europe. This is in stark contrast with the picture painted by the President of the European Commission earlier this month, when he delivered his annual speech on the State of the European Union.
“We were very disappointed to hear that the austerity measures and cuts to public budgets in Greece have reached a point where they have rendered universities unable to deliver their core functions of research and teaching. Cyprus, Greece, Portugal and Spain have all made serious sacrifices to abide the criteria that has been set by European policy-makers. In terms of higher education, we have seen budgets slashed by up to thirty per cent in just one year, like in Cyprus, affecting thousands of students. Austerity measures should not be glorified, like we listened to in the State of the Union address. This serious situation in Greece, which has only been getting worse, clearly proves that,” says Rok Primozic, Chairperson of the European Students’ Union.
The social impact of austerity
The State of the Union address focused on the positive signs for the future of Europe’s economy because of all the reforms that had been implemented by the countries’ governments.
“This vision takes only notice of figures that are used as tools to measure macro-economic growth. Of course it is important for us to be positive about our future, but we cannot ignore the social impact of this austerity policy. Students and young people are among the ones worst affected by those measures, while they should have been shielded. When universities are forced to close their doors, the country is loosing its most important potential to ever be able to climb out of this vicious cycle of austerity and cuts. Additionally, this will cause a lot of problems for students at those universities, since they won’t be able to finish their studies on top of more than 60 per cent youth unemployment rate in Greece,” says Primozic.
Eight countries slash their budgets
A Eurydice report published in March showed that eight countries cut the national budget for education by more than six per cent in 2012, where countries that have been following specific economic recommendations took the worst hit, even though they have been encouraged to invest more in education and training.
“The findings of our recent research on the financing of higher education also revealed worrying indicators for students, as the cost burden of education has been increasingly shifted onto students themselves and their families. Education is a core institution of our society and one of the main pillars of modern civilisation. Sudden changes to education systems can have devastating consequences as we have seen,” says Primozic.
New investments in education with Erasmus+
A new seven-year programme for education and youth called Erasmus+ will come into effect in 2014, with 14.5 billion euros to spare, approximately 40 per cent more than in the previous programme. The President of the European Commission underlined the importance of this programme in the European Union’s attempt to enhance innovation, mobility and solidarity.
“We are very happy with the increased funds invested in education and research and that these headings were spared in the revised budget proposal of the European Union. We agree with the President of the European Commission that it is important for us to act together for the future of Europe and we hope the new programme will contribute to that effort. We encourage European policy-makers to listen to what students have to say and adjust their proposals according to students’ wishes, as they are the main benefactors of the education system and they are the real creators of Europe’s future. We will continue to monitor the European Union to make sure that we are heard,” says Primozic.
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The European Students’ Union, headquartered in Brussels, is the umbrella organisation of 47 national unions of students from 39 European countries. ESU represents and promotes the educational, social, economical and cultural interests of students at the European level. Through its member unions, ESU represents over 11 million students in Europe. To find out more about ESU, follow us on Twitter @ESUtwt, check out or Facebook page or visit www.esu-online.org. ESU celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2012.