Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
21st Oct 2014

Continuing economic crisis in Greece pushes and pulls on student mobility

Despite some signs that the Greek economy may be headed for slightly better times, Greece’s economic crisis is ongoing - with significant ramifications for the country’s students and education institutions. In this article, we will examine the current economy’s impacts on the education sector and on the aspirations of students, with particular focus on what they may signal for outbound mobility.

The Greek economy: unemployment and educational cutbacks

There are many components of the Greek economic crisis, but most relevant to our discussion here are unemployment rates and government policy affecting the higher education sector as it tries to regain economic momentum. The unemployment rate in Greece currently stands at just over 26% while the youth unemployment rate is hovering over 50% (51.5% in June 2014). Both rates are among the highest in Europe. Moreover, the country hosts a worryingly high number of NEET (Neither in Employment nor Education or Training) youth. In 2011, the most recent year for which the OECD has data, 22% of 15-29 year-olds in Greece were NEET compared to 16% in OECD countries as a whole. Among 25-29-year-olds, the population of Greek NEETs was 30% compared to a 20% OECD average and lower only than Turkey’s 40%. For Greek students, statistics like these are alarm bells, as they obviously suggest a very tough job market to enter after graduation. German broadcasting outlet Deutsche Welle (DW) recounts the story of Elena Apostolaki, a 27-year-old who left Greece after completing a bachelor’s degree to study at the master’s level in Germany. She told DW that her goal was to “get a PhD position in Berlin, to work a few years in Germany and then go back again,” but admitted that she was unsure whether the Greek job market would strengthen sufficiently. Unemployment is not the only thing making Greek students nervous: there is also the government’s response to the economic crisis as it pertains to the education sector: huge cutbacks. For example, according to DW:

“In 2011, the annual Ministry of Education budget for the University of Crete was 17.5 million euros ($22.1 million). In 2012, the budget was cut by 75% and in the following years by a further 15%. Next year there will be yet another cut of 23%.”

Commenting on the cutbacks, Skevos Papaioannou, the former dean of the university, said:

"In real terms that means 3.1 million euros remain. The overheads for the university alone, for electricity and heating and other things, are estimated at 6 million euros.”

Teachers in Greece are feeling the pinch. The OECD reports that gross salaries for teachers fell by 17% in Greece compared to 2% on average among the whole OECD group. The situation was judged to be so dire last year that eight major Greek universities suspended their operations to protest funding cuts. The government had cut their staff allocations by nearly 50% (1,349 personnel). Professor Theodosis Pelegrinis, the rector of the University of Athens, wrote an open letter to Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to explain the closure of his university: “The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens is going through its greatest and most dangerous crisis since its foundation, due to its inability to operate in future as a teaching and research centre; offer high quality studies; complete research programmes; and [being] forced to curtail the provision of medical services and training to students in a number of university clinics.”

Declines in the number of Greek students abroad

The number of Greek students studying abroad has been declining for several years, though there are differing accounts of outbound numbers of late. The OECD study Education at a Glance estimates that 22,000 Greek students were studying abroad in 2012 versus 33,500 in 2011 and 34,200 the year before that. A UNESCO count, however, puts the number of Greek students abroad in 2012 at 32,360. Whatever the exact number, two things can be said of the trend:

  • It has been less affordable for many Greek students to study abroad as their economy has struggled through the worst of the economic crisis.
  • There are still significant numbers of Greek students choosing to study in other countries. Greek students abroad make up close to 6% of the total Greek student population. Their preferred destinations according to UNESCO are: the UK (11,759), Italy (3,318), Germany (2,749), Cyprus (2,316), France (1,999), the US (1,862), The Netherlands (1,475), Turkey (1,322), and Slovakia (1,087).

Increasing pressure to leave the country

While overall numbers of Greek students abroad may be down, there are signs that for the most ambitious Greek students – as well as established professionals – the future lies outside of Greece, at least in the near term. Germany, for one, has noticed an uptick in student enrolments from Greece. Between 2012 and 2013, there was a 13% increase in the number of Greek students studying in Germany. Greek professors are also feeling a pull to go abroad, according to a Businessweek article. The article interviewed two professors, one a PhD programme director and the other an adjunct professor, who felt they had to leave Greece for different reasons. The PhD programme director, Yanis Varoufakis, left when his opinions about the economic crisis resulted in abusive phone calls and when funding cuts stopped his ability to invite guests to lecture in his programme. The adjunct professor, Tassos Patokos, was dismissed in 2011 along with almost all other adjunct professors teaching in Greece. Doctors, too, are finding greener pastures in other countries. The Medical Association of Athens (ISA) has just reported that 4,000 doctors have emigrated from Greece in the last three years. Nearly two-thirds of these are professionals who have completed their education. The ISA explains:

“Doctors in Greece nowadays face actually two options: unemployment or migration. In the past, Greek doctors would go abroad to further educate themselves. Now they only do this to earn a living.”

The increasing sense that the Greek economy cannot provide enough attractive jobs, career paths, and money is echoed in a new study by the European University Institute (EUI). The study investigated emigration patterns and motivators among several European nationalities, and included 1,000 responses from Greek participants. The EUI study found that 50% of Greeks who emigrated already had a job. Many of these had studied abroad, returned to Greece, then found “their expectations dashed” with few prospects for career evolution in Greece, forcing them to leave.

No immediate relief on the horizon

Those Greek students who can afford to study abroad or who are eligible for scholarships at foreign universities seem to have no end of reasons to consider leaving the country. Greek elections this year have seen Konstantinos Arvanitopoulos replaced by Andreas Loverdos as education minister, and University World News explains the transition like this:

“Arvanitopoulos set out to destroy free state education, with cuts in state finance, closures and mergers of hundreds of schools, and suspension of thousands of teachers and administration staff …. There is concern that [Loverdos] has been called on to dismantle what little Arvanitopoulos left intact in higher education.”

This, coupled with an unemployment rate that was “double the euro average rate of 11.5%” as of this past July, will likely ensure that the economic situation in Greece continues to factor as both a drag and a driver of outbound mobility from the country for some time to come.

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