Discussion forum Print Version

  1. I just signed, it looks good! Did you consider putting somewhere on the page a button for sharing on social media (Facebook and others)? It seems to be a popular way to spread ideas these days ...
    Cheers,
    Lorenzo (Lorenzo Magnea, Torino)

    To your question: we also considered that, but than decided not to embed our initiative in networks like Facebook, twitter. (we are not members ourselves and do not have intention to become). On the other side of course these networks are very useful in spreading information and it is welcome if other participants of our initiative put some information and advertisement into these networks.
    (Michael G. Schmidt, Heidelberg)

    I understand your viewpoint. Myself, I am on Facebook, and posting the link was a quick way to get a few signatures, I guess other people are doing the same.
    (Lorenzo Magnea)

  2. Hi Michael, ..... Just to give you some feedback, I get some protests around the word "southern". Not precisely from southern people, but for example from England. I imagine you have given this some thought, but you should consider if adding or removing this word changes the core of the message or not.
    Javier ( Javier Mas Sole,Santiago de Compostela)

    We had a check with native speakers before. We can not change the petition already signed by many supporters, but we can use a more neutral expression in the homepage ( "welcome").
    (Michael G. Schmidt, Heidelberg)

  3. ... The petition as well as the attached information (not counting links to third-party sites) does not provide any clue about three main points: (i) what are the concrete problems that you want to deal with; (ii) what you want to achieve; (iii) how you want to achieve it.

    In brief, it would be much easier to make an opinion - and potentially to join - if one could see clearly what you actually want. In conclusion, let me stress that I very much appreciate your effort, and do think that discussion of education in Europe is a very important issue (as is clear from the very fact that I am writing to you). I do hope that you will consider this e-mail as a hint how to improve the propagation of your initiative.
    (Tomas Brauner, Bielefeld)

    Dear Dr. Brauner, thank you for your mail.
    To your three main points:

    (i) The concrete problems depend first of all on each country. Since the EU has 27 countries mentioning all the specific, concrete problems cannot be done in a petition. We ask instead everybody to provide information, at least at the level of personal estimation about the local situation.

    (ii) In the petition we proposed a number of explicit goals and instruments. For the same reasons as above, they must be seen as general problem-settings and challenges for the EU. Country specific proposals must again come from persons in each country, since they should match the specific problems and needs.

    (iii) As is evident, we are not in responsible positions at some EU level such as to make decisions. In petition and mail we set the aim of this initiative as showing the concern of academic circles, increase the awareness for the problem and suggest a decisive involvement of the EU. As also mentioned there, once we can demonstrate the participation and support of the circles interested in education, the petition should be made public and sent to country and EU authorities (especially ministries of education and the EU-commission).

    The participation to the discussion - comments, suggestions and descriptions especially as mentioned under (i) and (ii) above - proceeds by e-mails which should be sent to us with explicit indication of what can be made public. The relevant contributions, together with our answers, will be collected and posted under the header "discussion forum", available on the home-page.

    We also have given a number of links where specific information can be found, and strongly recommend to the interested people to visit these pages.
    (Michael Schmidt and Ion Stamatescu)

  4. ... I find the initiative worth supporting and I shall forward the link ... The most important appears to me, that the present cut-programs which are practically imposed onto these states should spare, as far as possible, the education systems. This aspect should probably be especially taken into account in the present negotiations on the conditions for financial help.
    (Christoph Goelz, Heidelberg)

    Dear Christoph, we completely agree with you. Of course for this, as well for other kinds of help, there will always come the question, how could such conditions be implemented and verified. Eventually this should be a question for the corresponding authorities, but also the local, interested people could help by observations and advice.
    (Ion Stamatescu, Heidelberg)

  5. "We are 750 elected but not placed faculty members of universities around Greece who are waiting for their appointment for more than 3 years now *(since more or less the country entered this unprecedented economic crisis). We are all PhD holders, scientists of significant credentials many with years of postdoctoral experience in Greece and abroad. We are at the moment either unemployed or working part time (in many occasions without pay) and many have left the country or thinking of doing so. We have formed an Initiative of non-appointed Faculty Members of Greek Universities (http://lecture.jimdo.com/) and from the members of the steering committee of this initiative one is in Austria, one in the USA and one in Australia! The universities that selected us due to staff shortages are struggling to keep up with their curriculum. The recruitment freezing applied by the government in all public sectors -universities included- besides creating a huge personal problem for each one of us, evaporates also the hopes of young scholars of an academic career in Greece and puts at risk scientific research since the renewal of the personnel of the universities has been stopped.

    We feel very strongly in getting the word out about our government's short-sighted vision for science and education that keeps us in this hostage state for so long now.

    These are two articles recently published on the matter, one for the Euroscientist and the one in Nature:
    http://euroscientist.com/2013/04/academics-hired-but-not-appointed-a-new-greek-tragedy-in-the-making/
    http://www.nature.com/news/austerity-led-brain-drain-is-killing-greek-science-1.12813"
    (Varvara Trachana, Athena)

  6. Dear Michael and Ion, thank you very much for this initiative. It is for sure needed. I would like to share some thoughts with you on the situation of education and research as I see it being in Cyprus.

    1) Education is important and the school structure should be modernized across Europe. Therefore, I support very much the idea of common measures across Europe to ensure a solid educational system.

    2) However, countries like Greece, Cyprus and Italy still produced highly educated people at least till the Bachelor degree. The real problem is what happens afterward. Huge numbers of talented people are leaving because of lack of investment in research and innovation. This hurts these countries badly since in the first place they pay to educate these people and then, when they are ready to go into research, they lose them to e.g. Switzerland, Germany, USA etc. This is the most dramatic effect that in my opinion should be addressed asap. Therefore I suggest that it is extremely important to allocate research funds on merit criteria to groups and institutions which are internationally visible. Creating a pan-European network of research positions for PhD students and postdocs but maybe also faculty is essential to keep highly qualified people in the depressed countries.

    3) In connection to item 2 creating a common EU policy to support research institutions across Europe will be welcome. Strict merit criteria should be applied so the funds go to the groups with real potential in these countries.

    4) Funding of fundamental sciences is typically done nationally since most of FP7 funding went for applications. Therefore, austerity means that there will be almost no money for fundamental sciences. Thus having EU support for groups who engage in fundamental sciences will be important. Again the funding should be targeted to the good scientists in each of these countries.
    (Prof. Constantia Alexandrou, University of Cyprus)

    Dear Dina, thank you very much for your detailed opinion! The aim of this discussion forum is primarily to express what we think is missing or wanted.

    a) One should remind that there is a tight relation between education and research, the latter drawing on the former and at the same time providing teaching competence.

    b) Your points are very interesting, some of your proposals may need discussion, for instance what would happen with people after being supported for some time in the absence of a system of tenure track positions. Another point may be that support form the EU should come in tandem with national financing.

    c) Apparently FP7 comes to an end this year and we should ask the EU how the Marie Curie programme is intended to develop in the future.
    (Michael Schmidt, Ion Stamatescu)

    (to a)): I agree but Cyprus, for instance, spends disproportionate large amounts in education (second in Europe as a fraction of GNP) but almost nothing on research (last in Europe). This is not a good plan because there are no jobs for these people. What I am trying to say is that it is politically easier to sell education than research. From this point of view I would like to focus on research but it goes without saying that one needs education (hence my first point in the comments I sent). Education without research infrastructure is a dead end when it comes to economic benefits and competitiveness of the country since these people go abroad so the receiving countries get the benefits.

    (to b)): In my point of view it is time to have a European planning on research and innovation, just like Germany or the US have a federal plan for research not leaving everything to the individual states. And one needs to put resources in support of research in these depressed areas not just impose austerity.
    (Prof. Constantia Alexandrou, University of Cyprus)

  7. The educational debacle appears to set in. Two national universities in Athens are forced to stop all operations, stating that "any educational, research and administrative operation ... is objectively impossible. .. The incomprehensible insistence of both the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Administrative Reform and e-Governance [leads] directly to undermining higher education and the young generation of Greece, the only substantial hope for overcoming the social and economic crisis in the years to come..." See number 13 the General Information page and the link:
    http://greece.greekreporter.com/2013/09/23/university-of-athens-ntua-suspend-operations/
    Compare number 5. in the discussion forum (above).
    (I. Stamatescu, communication by Margarita Garcia Perez)

  8. With reference to the educational situation in Greece we have received two very open and detailed letters from George Zoupanos and Elias Kiritsis, posted below. This discussion highlights two important problems which appear of general relevance:

    1. Home made difficulties (over years) and doubtful politics (e.g., forced privatization).

    2. Inconsiderate external pressure - instead of constructive 'support and commitment'.
    (M. Schmidt and I. Stamatescu)


    Dear Friends,
    Personally I would not consider the firing of a low percentage of those who work in the public sector as catastrophy. They should be examined and some of them fired. However 50% in a university like ours it is! in particular since engineers, physicists and mathematicians are excluded. So the percentage of real administrators goes to number that a university simply cannot operate. By the way the firing of the administration took place in the rather strong universities which looks as if they want make them weak or close them down.
    Concerning the goverment I believe it leads us in privatisation of the higher education.
    I did not go in details yesterday but let me give you few numbers
    1) I lost more than 45% of my salary during the crisis
    2) a new full professor according to the new law will get a salary less than 1500 euros; who talanted will come?
    3) the only way to get new academic personal is from retirement. This in turn is impossed by the troica to be 1 hiring in 10 retirements! This alone closes universities in few years.
    4) normally we dont have fellowships for the doctoral students, while post docs do not exist at all. Our university being rather rich had reserved money, which were used to support doctoral students with very few felowships, others with small money for services like teaching, labs, exams. Now most of the money (~90%) disappeared with the "hair cut" of the banks.
    5) we never had really money for conferences etc, still we had some small money to use to cover some expenses of various kinds. These money this year almost vanished.
    All the above shows that there is a policy to close down the public university education (similar examples hold also for other levels of education). We find this criminal! and I am sure you agree. It is so hard to build an educational and research system and so easy to destroy it.
    The point that we were discussing with Dieter is that various Europeans and Germans in particular do not know all that and impose measures to our government, which lead to a huge crisis. So you should inform people and mostly your governments where this policy leads. The responsibility of our government is that it should realize where this policy leads and put a no-go barrier, but they dont.
    Lets see if we can do something. The time left is very limited thats why John was talking about phase transition...
    All the best, George
    (George Zoupanos)

    I do not think that privatization of public universities is in the imminent agenda of the right that is currently governing. However, the right wants to liberate higher education so that private universities are possible and recognized. Although I am positive that private universities are allowed, they only want to help some of their cronies who have such institutions to make money (as this is a BIG market in Greece, especially as public universities do not address the real needs of Greece) and therefore they want no real quality evaluation. (Elias Kiritsis)

    Dear Michael,

    the story is more complex than it looks. Most universities have indeed a bloated administrative sector. Looking also at the numbers your do not get the right idea. Not all people registered as administrative personel are so. Several years ago, the govermenent in one night gave "tenure" to a lot of people working on research programms, without any evaluation and called them administrators. Most were researchers, and after, although a few work with administrative tasks, most do research in programms to profit those that have the programs. In my university almost half of all administrators are of that type and I am told that in active universities this is also the case.

    On top of this, most administrators in the universities work inefficiently, and some that I know in my university are extreme cases and that should have been fired long ago. All of this is known to the government and everybody. From the government point of view: (a) They must fire a fixed number of people (b) they have good reasons to believe there are people to be fired in universities. The only problem with this, is they set criteria that look as "neutral" as possible and of course they will not get rid of the right people.

    Where is the compromise between the two is not clear, and I do not think the government, or the university leadership are capable of finding the correct middle road, as all of them have their own agenda and making the universities better is not a priority.

    The best is to come as info is saying that next, 40% of the faculty will be fired. A priori, and for Greece, this is an excellent idea in my opinion since I have good reasons to believe that at least 40% of the faculty in Greek universities, is of VERY low quality or completely inactive. However the problem is as before: It is not at all clear, if it is these people that will leave.

    In my opinion the correct way of doing all of the above is that the creditors (aka troika) set up an independent committee from foreign experts that oversees from close by, the evaluation of university personnel and faculty. But this will not happen as neither the troiKa, nor the greek government want this

    best regards
    Elias
    (Elias Kiritsis)

  9. "It's going to get worse before it gets better ... This situation has to change or the universities will slowly die."
    (Dr. Varvara Trachana, Athen, see PDF-file)

  10. Contribution of Michael Schmidt and Ion Stamatescu to the "Physikjournal" of the German Physical Society (Dec. 2013)
    (see PDF-file, in German)

  11. Dear Michael,

    thnx again for starting this web page. I am so happy to see that there are still some people out there who care, even if they are not directly affected (at least not so much) by the current crisis!

    As to your question, whether the situation is improving in Spain, unfortunately I have to say that despite all the clamour by members of the Spanish government about how much the situation has improved, for the ordinary people not much, if anything at all, has changed so far.

    Cuts on science and education are still in effect, with no raise in next years budget. On the contrary, the government is still looking for any possible ways to cut spending. I don't know, whether this made any headlines in Germany, but a few weeks ago it was announced that the support from the central government for Humboldt fellows, promised for the 2013/2014 academic year, would be cancelled. This caused an outrage, since most of the fellows had already made up their plans (or even already left Spain!), but only the direct intervention from Brussels got this decission reversed. And this is but one example, how arbitrary last-minute decissions make it nearly impossible to plan for the future at the moment.

    Worse in a more general picture, however, is that the cuts on funding for universities will not be reversed in any foreseeable future, forcing universities to raise tuition fees for students by large amounts. That is, especially now, when all politicians say that only with education will we leave the crisis behind, the same people make the access to university impossible financially for the poorer half of the population. And there are no signs that this will ever change again, end of crisis or not.

    With my best regards,
    Martin
    (Martin Hirsch, Valencia)

  12. Letter from the office of the European Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, see PDF-file.

  13. There is a Greek petition
    www.invest-in-education.eu
    much in the spirit of our initiative.We tried to make contact, but up to now there was no reply. The list of signers is not revealed.

  14. We have written to the president of the European parliament and candidate for EU-commission presidency (of the German SPD and the European SPE) Martin Schulz (10.9.2013 and 7.2.2014 (the latter in German)) and got a rather positive reply 17.4.2014, see the attached files (email_1, email_2, and reply).

  15. Mail exchange with David McAllister, the prime EU-parliament candidate of the German CDU (in German), see the attached files (email, and reply).

  16. Mail exchange with the office of Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the SPD and minister for economy (in German), see the attached files (email, and reply).

  17. Mail exchangege with the prime candidate of the German CSU for the EU-election Markus Ferber (in German language), see the attached files (email, and reply).

  18. A reply from the European parliament concerning our petition, after some longer time, ... the mills of administration ... , see the attached files (email).
    (Michael G. Schmidt, Heidelberg)

  19. The following web page analyzes convincingly the research and university situation in France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, -and it encourages to actions very soon in Paris, Madrid, Roma.
    http://www.euroscientist.com/blog/2014/10/06/special-issue-research-activism-print-edition/

    I thank Wolfgang Eppenschwandtner from ISE for this useful information,
    Michael Schmidt