Educational Practices Abroad
The HE system in Greece is currently undergoing wide ranging reforms as a result of legislation passed in 2007 as part of the Bologna agreement. The changes have caused considerable unease and are the subject of much discussion in the press and media.
The key issues that emerge from this research are:
- HE is theoretically free at Public Universities, participation at 60% is one of the highest in the EU. Competition for places at over-subscribed reputable institutions is fierce but the private sector is growing.
- Access to HE is via the highly competitive national Pan-Hellenic exams, grades awarded determine the HE options.
- Students prepare for several years, the use of private tuition and ‘cramming’ schools is commonplace. The emphasis is firmly on memorisation, encouraging the perception of learning as simply the amassing and retention of facts.
- In public universities text books (in Greek) are provided free; they are often written by the lecturers specifically for the course without any formal editorial process or peer review. For the students they become very much ‘the book of the course’.
- Assessment is usually by exam, coursework is rare and there is little systematic feedback on results. Most students direct their energy into learning the text book to achieve success in the exam.
- The narrow focus of study and concentration on memorisation mean that students tend to be ill equipped for independent study and lack a critical or analytical approach.
- Students learn in large groups (sometimes several hundred) in lecture format. There is little or no direct interaction with the lecturers who are seen as distant and removed; students rely on their peers for information and support.
- There is a culture of repeated retaking of courses or exams in order to improve the grade. The 2007 legislation limits the maximum length of study to double the normal 4 years plus 2 semesters, and exam resits to once unless special approval is sought.
- Greek students tend to live as dependents at home during UG study, this and the high level of graduate unemployment contribute to a lack of urgency to complete and move on.
Having said this, a small proportion of Greek students are involved in research projects with tutors in smaller institutions which requires them to engage with a wider range of sources and at a higher level. These students are likely to have excellent skills for independent learning. The key is not to make assumptions.
This is a picture of the results of a particular piece of research in selected parts of a large country. However, it suggests important implications for how we teach international postgraduate students. The limited time available on Masters programmes particularly to help international students develop appropriate academic abilities and attitudes suggests that programmes need to be carefully designed with the needs of these students in mind.
What follows is a list of questions which can act as a checklist for auditing existing programmes or in planning new provision:
- What assumptions about academic skills are built into this programme?
- Students are used to gaining information from reading from textbooks, journals, academic texts, professional journalism
- Students have the skills to evaluate the quality of arguments and evidence in the materials they read
- At a conceptual level students understand the conventions of academic debate and argument, and how their own essays and dissertations need to conform to those conventions
- At a practical level, students understand how to read academic writing, using contents pages, indexes, and discrimination in selection of text
- Students are clear about what they can expect and not expect from the academics who teach them
Are there opportunities for students from different cultures to contribute their knowledge and experience to the programme, rather than being viewed only as problematic and exceptional?