Thousands of Greek students rallied in Athens and other cities on Thursday to protest against planned education reforms that would allow the introduction of private universities in the country.
The conservative government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who won a second term last year, is expected to submit a bill to parliament this month that would permit private universities to operate inside Greece.
The government has said the schools will operate as branches of foreign universities. Many believe the move will devalue degrees from Greece’s public universities and that the private system will exclude those who cannot afford it.
The change will “tear apart the public university as we knew it”, said student Christina Iliopoulou, who joined the protest in Athens. “It will destroy our daily life in terms of how we will be able to find a job after we graduate.”
The protests were largely peaceful, but there was a brief clash in Athens between protesters and police, who fired tear gas.
Universities in Greece are government-funded institutions where attendance has been free for decades.
But Greece has implemented a series of education reforms in the past despite fierce opposition from students and staff.
The government, which enjoys a parliamentary majority, has argued that the reform would bolster the economy by luring back some of around 40,000 students now studying overseas and reverse a brain drain of academics prompted by the 2010-2018 debt crisis.
The private universities’ curriculum would follow very strict academic standards, the government said last week, adding that the reform would also free public universities of bureaucracy and boost their self-governance.