A long-standing “modern Greek exception” entailed in the prohibition of recognized non-state, non-profit higher education institutions in the country appears finally headed for history’s dustbin, as the center-right government this week unveiled a “road map” essentially bypassing a relevant constitutional ban.

Allowing non-state universities to be established and operate in the country has been a standing ideological foundation for ruling New Democracy (ND) party for decades, a prominent policy priority for the successive Mitsotakis governments since 2019 and among the goals repeatedly cited by PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis himself.

In a television appearance on Wednesday evening, Education Minister Kyriakos Pierrakakis said the right to establish such tertiary institutions in Greece, as affiliates of foreign universities of good standing, emanates from a 2020 decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union, by which “…the conditions introduced by Hungary to enable foreign higher education institutions to carry out their activities in its territory are incompatible with EU law.”

Pierrakakis added that such educational institutions could commence operation in Greece from the 2025-2026 academic year, “and in any case, by the end of this government’s tenure.”

While private for-profit tertiary institutions operate in Greece, whatever degrees, diplomas and certifications they bestow to graduates are not recognized by the state or registered by professional and trade groups in the country.

According to article 16 of Greece’s constitution, “…Education at (the) university level shall be provided exclusively by institutions which are fully self-governed public law legal persons {entities}… The establishment of university level institutions by private persons is prohibited.”

The specific article, along with failed attempts to revise it over the past four decades, renders Greece as among the very few countries around the world where non-state universities do not operate in a recognized manner.

In opening a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Mitsotakis told his ministers that “…Our meeting today begins with a historic reform in education. We’re strengthening the public university even more, and at the same time shaping the framework so that non-profit, non-state higher education institutions can finally operate in Greece.”

Hours later, his education minister noted that there will be a strict set of rules and conditions for the operation of such institutions, including guaranteed financial resources, international recognition and facilities in place. He called the Mitsotakis government’s intent to proceed with this “historic reform” ends Greece’s status as the “only country on the planet without a non-state university.” He also played down – widely expected – legal challenges to the prospect.

Pierrakakis, viewed as among the most successful ministers in the previous Mitsotakis Cabinet (2019-2023) while holding the digital governance portfolio, said the government is optimistic that Article 16 itself will be overcome via the constitutional revision process, which entails an extended majority in Parliament.

In a first reaction by the opposition, a deputy and spokeswoman for leftist main opposition SYRIZA party said “Mr. Mitsotakis has done everything in his power over the past five years to depreciate the public university, and now he’s playing dangerous games with the Constitution…He doesn’t want a public or a free Greek university…he only wants specific businesspeople to profit. Everything is a business for Mr. Mitsotakis.”

Conversely, socialist PASOK party leader Nikos Androulakis said the framework of conditions his party demands in order to support any bill for non-state universities aim to ensure that such institutions are based on “… the model of European and American universities, with a campus, with research – then we won’t stand as an obstacle, because we want to be a modern country.”

The fourth party in Parliament, in terms of representation, the Communist Party (KKE), expectedly expressed its absolute opposition to any prospect of a non-state higher education institution in Greece.