By Irene Goudarouli |
In 2015, I was happy to be awarded my doctorate degree from the University of Athens in Greece. Hence, today I’m writing this piece in a different position than I was in over the last couple of years, when I still was a PhD student. I embarked on my PhD in the Humanities back in 2010. Given the socio-political and economic circumstances in Greece, it was a tough decision but I took the risk anyway and started my research in Athens.
In general, being a young researcher requires tonnes of energy, motivation and high self-esteem in order to tolerate long periods of isolation (sometimes “self-exile”). As other posts have eloquently noted, being a PhD student in the Humanities, let’s put it simply, can push one to experience this contradictory period to the fullest.
In my case, the stress of my PhD does not just involve the various intellectual challenges that any (past, current and future) PhD student struggles with. In Greece, from 2010, the socio-political and economic context altered rapidly and painfully and made any person’s life an escalating extreme.
Being a PhD student at this time, I was facing a three-way crisis. Firstly a personal one; an existential crisis which, I guess, any PhD student worth the title undergoes from time to time. Secondly an institutional one; the crisis in the Humanities has pushed the academic-bubble to its limits, both inside and outside of Greece. And thirdly a socio-political one; the growth of the humanitarian, political and economic crisis in Greece, even though, as an academic faculty member, I felt – and I was – luckier than other individuals within the broader Greek society.
I will not talk about my personal crisis, which was mainly connected with the anxieties that any student faces during the PhD years. The second crisis is related to a wider phenomenon already known as ‘the attack against the Humanities’. Indeed this attack against the Humanities had already started to manifest itself in 2010, not only in Greece with the upcoming crisis, but also in the UK and the USA. The budgetary cuts, the gradual decrease in funds and grants, the underpaid and overworked graduate students and faculty, departments losing majors and in some cases even closing down were signs that the Humanities were in serious danger. Without doubt the attack against the Humanities is still real, but in Greece this institutional crisis is compounded with the socio-economic crisis and takes the form of a humanitarian and political one.
From 2010 onwards the new austerity measures imposed on the Greek higher education system altered the, still free and public, university. The budgetary cuts and the decline in research funds and travel grants were only the beginning, and unpaid teaching assistantships, lectureships and supervisions became the ordinary. From 2013 a new wave of measures affected how the administration and academic staff was implemented. Now, faculties and departments operate without sufficient teaching and administrative staff. There are no new openings, while retirements are still on track. A great number of administration officers, the whole cleaning staff and custodians were regarded an “unnecessary expenses” and were kicked out. After a few difficult months the Greek university system became a shadow of itself. Faculties were running out of the basic facilities: printing paper, toilet paper, electricity and gas, while the cleaning levels of the departments dropped. Academic and administration staff, PhD, MA and BA students are suffering as a result; they clean their own desks and toilets, while at the same time, they do try their best to keep the quality of their work at international standards.
PhD students, academic and administration staff are trying their best to keep the departments running. Despite sufficient access to academic journals, proper facilities and financial support, the intellectual environment of the Greek University is more vivid than ever. International conferences, workshops and lectures are held by the departments and faculties, and Greek scholars participate in international conferences (mainly funded by foreign organizations and institutions, or self-funded), publish in highly-rated international journals and they keep the quality of their work at high levels. This is just to keep up with the basics for the extremely competitive international academic job-hunt in the Humanities.
On the 13 July 2015 everyone on this planet heard about the new austerity measures asked to be imposed on Greece by Germany, the Northern countries and the rest of European member states. Without doubt, the new austerity measures will deepen the crisis in the Greek university and the rest of the society. It is crucial to note that the University crisis is only one aspect of the Greek crisis –needless to say, hospitals have suffered a similar but even more critical decline – but it highlights the bitter situation that not only of Greek academics but also other professionals cope with in their everyday life.
This short narrative of my PhD experience aims to raise awareness about the Greek academic crisis as well as its general context, and I invite you to understand the difficulties Greek academics are facing every day and support them.
Solidarity to academics and all those suffering in Greece
Irene Goudarouli recently completed her doctorate in history of science at the University of Athens. For more please visit her academia.edu page.
 I suggest a series of interviews from early career researchers in the UK: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/feb/04/academic-casual-contracts-higher-education
 For example, the Middlesex University philosophy department: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2010/may/17/philosophy-closure-middlesex-university
 For example, the Middlesex University philosophy department: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2010/may/17/philosophy-closure-middlesex-university and the University of Salford School of Humanities: https://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/salford-culls-courses-to-secure-future/2004425.article