Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis appeared unwavering on Friday over his government’s intent to pass a draft bill that finally allows recognition of non-state, non-private higher education institutions in the east Mediterranean country.

A constitutional article (XVI) has long served as a barrier to any but public universities and colleges operating in the country from being recognized by the Greek state, a barrier that was also considered – by the state’s bureaucracy – as also covering affiliates of foreign institutions operating in Greece. Nevertheless, a current draft law in Parliament essentially bypasses the constitutional “snag” by formally recognizing foreign institutions’ affiliates in order to be compatible with EU community law.

The draft bill envisions possibly the most radical reform – by modern Greek standards – initiated since center-right New Democracy (ND) party returned to power in 2019.

On the same day as Mitsotakis’ address before college students’ grouping affiliated with his ruling ND party, the education ministry draft bill, entitled “Reinforcing state universities – framework for the operation of non-profit branches of foreign universities”, was approved in principle by a majority of a relevant Parliament standing committee. New Democracy MPs voted in favor of the bill in principle, with the MPs of main opposition SYRIZA, along with PASOK, the Communist Party (KKE) and three other lesser opposition parties voting against. Deputies representing the small opposition parties Elliniki Lysi and Plefsi Eleftherias abstained, saying their parties will present positions on the draft legislation during the plenary debate.

On his part, Mitsotakis said several major universities have already expressed an interest in opening affiliate institutions in Greece, without going into details. “And any party expressing interest knows of the strict criteria we will place,” the center-right premier said.

He also took aim at his main political rivals, accusing PASOK president Nikos Androulakis of abruptly changing positions over the bill, even when support for non-state, non-profit universities from within that party’s ranks has been expressed.

Mitsotakis on private university grad Kasselakis

As for SYRIZA leader Stefanos Kasselakis, he reminded that the latter is a graduate of a top New England prep school and distinguished American universities — all non-state, non-profit institutions.

“Explain this contradiction to me,” he asked rhetorically. “If the university he (Kasselakis) studied at declares it wants a branch in Greece, what will Mr. Kasselakis say, that he doesn’t want it? Kasselakis and Androulakis are vying for first place among the defeated (parties)”.

Meanwhile, the prime minister’s comments also coincided with the announcement by several college student groups that they’ll organize a protest in central Athens on March 8, the day when the draft bill is expected to come up for vote by the Parliament plenum.

Although opinion polls in the country show varying degrees of majority support for such a liberalization, militant student groups affiliated with leftist parties, much of the political opposition and educators’ and academics’ unions are adamantly against the prospect of foreign universities operating in Greece and being recognized by the Greek state, i.e. diplomas and degrees bestowed on students being recognized.

Greece is among the few, if not the only western state where non-state, non-profit universities operating on its territory face a constitutional obstacle preventing their recognition.