The idea of establishing a University in Greece emerged alongside with the Greek War of Independence, also known as the Greek Revolution. The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, officially founded on April 14th, 1837, is the first University not only of Greece but both the Balkan peninsula and the Eastern Mediterranean region.
HISTORY AND PERSPECTIVES
The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens is the largest state institution of higher learning in Greece, and among the largest universities in Europe. As all other Greek universities, it is a self-governed legal entity of public law and all major policy issues are determined by the Ministry of National Education and Religion. Retaining its academic autonomy, it fully respects the constitutionally secured right to everyone for free education. This is possible because it is funded by the state.
Moreover, It is progressively succeeding to benefit from its property and legacies, as well as from the funding of research projects with national and international partners. All funds are invested into the management and operation of educational, research and cultural programmes, into student and staff services and grants.
With a student body of about 68.500 undergraduate and postgraduate students, over 2.100 members of academic staff and approximately 1.000 administrative and secretarial staff and specialised personnel, the University of Athens aims at excellence in both teaching and research in a significantly varied range of disciplines.
The Faculties and their respective Departments, functioning within the 9 larger academic units entitled Schools, as well as a number of independent Faculties offer a wide range of undergraduate courses, leading to a Diploma equivalent to a Bachelor of Arts or Sciences degree (Ptychio in Greek), after a minimum of four years of studies. Moreover, intra- and inter-Departmental programmes offer an expanding range of taught and research-based postgraduate degrees.
Facilities for academic work and research are growing fast, but because of the poor ratio between academic staff and students in many Departments, presently, the possibilities for individualized attention to students and project work are limited, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. The number of Greek and foreign students to be admitted as full-time students each year is determined by the Ministry of Education, but Faculties and their academic staff decide on the number of European students on mobility programmes each semester.
Actually, international students are welcome at the University of Athens and, in recent years, the number of non-Greek nationals studying in the various Faculties has increased. Some of them are enrolled as full-time students in undergraduate or postgraduate programmes, while others are exchange students, studying at the University of Athens for one or two semesters and participating more or less actively in its academic life and in the rich cultural life inside and outside the university.
Indeed, many foreign but also Greek students feel it is a privilege for them to be living in the historic and cosmopolitan city of Athens, and to be studying in a university that has maintained its tradition and prestige for 180 years.
From past to present
The University of Athens, inaugurated on 3rd May 1837, was first housed in a neoclassical residence, on the northeastern side of the Acropolis, renovated today and operating as the University Museum. Initially named “Othonian University” after Greece’s first King, Othon, it consisted of 4 academic units and 52 students.
As it was the first university in the newly established modern Greek state, as well as in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean region, its socio-historically significant role has been decisive for the production of particular knowledge and culture in the country.
In 1841 the administrative services and education units were transferred to what has presently known as the “main building” of the University of Athens which, in 1932 was officially named National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, in honour of Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first governor of Greece, after the nation’s independence.
Today, this building houses the Rectorate, the Senate, the Great Hall of Ceremonies and important central services. Its forecourt, the propylaeum, is socio-historically significant as it has served as a main site for political rallies and demonstrations by students and other social groups involved in social rights movements.
Until the early part of the 20th century, the University of Athens was the only university in Greece that provided Greek society with qualified professionals in medicine, the physical and social sciences, law and economics, archaeology and in education as well as in the clergy. In its many years of operation, it has offered the country a centre of intellectual production, stimulating intellectual circles functioning inside and outside its premises.
Moreover, it has and still offers important social services as its academic staff regularly serves on national and international committees, carries out educational and other research projects, and plans and takes part in seminars for a variety of social groups, oftentimes in addition to their full-time work at University. One of its most important contributions is to the national health scheme, since students of the health sciences in training, under the supervision of professorial staff, offer their medical services to the public.
Still, perhaps the most prestigious university in the country, the University of Athens has established a tradition of scholarship and constructive participation in the social sphere.
Gazing at the future
The University of Athens is confronted today with a variety of challenges, on the basis of which it is progressively articulating new goals for egalitarian education to its large numbers of students so they develop the required knowledge and skills to function as creative intellectuals and competent professionals in a rapidly changing society, which is part of the larger European community.
Opposing the marketisation of university studies and the development of a highly competitive system that one encounters in institutions of tertiary education in many Western countries nowadays, it is denying its traditional role of producing an intellectual elite. Recognizing the importance of human resource development, the University of Athens aims to create closer links between the worlds of production and the consumption of knowledge, thus contributing to social and economic development in the country.
In order to respond to new challenges, some of the major steps the University of Athens is taking concern the rapid development of the following:
- New Faculties and Departments which offer undergraduate programmes in novel areas of knowledge.
- Interdisciplinary programmes of study for different target groups.
- A great variety of taught and research-based postgraduate programmes.
- Laboratories, centres and library schemes provide staff and students with conditions to use new technologies and access information nationally and internationally.
- Infrastructure for the use of ICT in education and the operation of e-classes.
- An academic and career information service.
- A business relations service.
- Organized programmes and bilateral agreements with European and other foreign educational and research institutions for the exchange of students, academic staff and young researchers.
- Academic and market-based research projects involving national and international partners.
- Better conditions for the teaching and learning of a variety of languages by Greek students and for the teaching and learning of Greek as a foreign language.
The profile of the University of Athens is changing. As the new millennium begins, the university wishes to play a dominant role in social mobility and in social change.