Education: Personally speaking- Beware Greeks bearing lists

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The Independent Online
Two years ago, British universities were asked to supply lists of Greek students and former students, as well as those who had studied at collaborative partner institutions in Greece, and those who had studied partly in Greece and partly in the UK.

Universities refusing to comply with this request from the Athens-based Dikatsa (the Inter-Hellenic Centre for the Recognition of Foreign Degree Titles) are blacklisted; alumni cannot get their degrees registered in Greece, so their employment opportunities are severely limited.

Meanwhile, Greece suffers financial penalties imposed by the European Court of Justice. As long ago as March 1995, the European Court condemned Greece for its failure to implement a system of mutual recognition of vocationally based higher-education qualifications. By refusing to recognise the degrees legitimately conferred by British (and French) universities, Dikatsa, it seems, is acting within the Greek constitution but in defiance of European Union laws.

In adopting this approach, Dikatsa, which acts almost as an arm of the ultra-conservative Greek universities, is playing out a special agenda.

First, it is opposed to the growth of a private higher education sector in Greece, and is anxious to preserve the monopoly to which it believes Greek universities are entitled. Second, it seems to view with disfavour Greek students travelling to Britain or France to study for degrees. So it will not recognise their qualifications in order to "punish" foreign universities that refuse to assist in what amounts to a restrictive trade practice.

These days, information relating to individual students is invariably held on computerised databases - so UK institutions cannot release information without the prior permission of each student, to comply with Data Protection legislation. Some UK universities, in an effort to appease Dikatsa, have found ingenious ways round this law. But appeasement is a bankrupt policy. Those universities that have released data to Dikatsa have only assisted in the unfair discrimination.

These developments have been accompanied by some thoroughly mischievous newspaper reporting in Greece.

In March last year, the head of Dikatsa, Professor Theodoros Lianos, wrote an article in a Greek Sunday newspaper, in which he impugned the quality of degree programmes offered in Greece by the collaborative partner institutions of British universities. He gave the impression that Dikatsa was solely concerned in protecting Greek students.

Professor Lianos also threatened to publish a blacklist of British universities that refused to "collaborate" with Dikatsa: no degrees awarded by blacklisted universities would gain Dikatsa recognition, not even those studied wholly in the UK. Further articles have since appeared in the Greek press, listing UK universities seen by Dikatsa as "problematic". Professor Lianos apparently disclaims these, but it's likely that the information originated from somewhere within his office.

To date, support from the British government for the position adopted by such UK universities has been minimal. In the interests of good Anglo- Greek relations, the British Council in Athens has urged collaboration with Dikatsa, and has declined to make any public comment to counter Dikatsa's rumour-mongering. Not for the first time, British officials have failed to support British enterprise when faced with the self-interested policies of other EU member states.

At the centre of this storm are the Greek students whose British degrees Greece is refusing to recognise. Professor Lianos is clearly uninterested in their welfare. Perhaps Mr Blunkett will speak up for them.

Professor Geoffrey Alderman is Pro Vice-Chancellor of Quality and Standards at the University of Middlesex