A note on the Greek state's attitude to international university qualifications

Greece has been in the spotlight for a number of reasons lately. But there is one aspect of life in Greece that is little known to people abroad. It concerns higher education and is quite astounding in its absurdity. Any foreigner who wants to work in Greece, and any Greek student abroad who wants to return to Greece, should know about it. 

Just as many countries in the EU have a designated National Academic Recognition Information Centre (NARIC) for recognising academic degrees based on the Bologna Process, so too Greece has the Inter-University Centre for the Recognition of Foreign Degrees, formerly known by the acronym DIKATSA (ΔΙΚΑΤΣΑ), and currently known as DOATAP (ΔΟΑΤΑΠ). As with most things in Greece, however, for the past thirty years DOATAP has worked in a similar way to its European counterparts in name only, not in practice. In practice, DOATAP implements protectionist laws and it is notorious for its lack of transparency, lack of administrative coordination and very long delays in the decision process. 

What this means in reality is that in Greece it is very difficult, and sometimes impossible, for graduates of foreign universities or private universities in Greece to have their degrees recognised by the Greek state. Degrees attained abroad are compared to degrees given by Greek institutions on the basis of unclear formal criteria rather than on the basis of an essential, in-depth comparison of an applicant’s actual studies and level of knowledge of his field of study. 

For instance, PhD dissertations are not read; instead, transcripts are compared class by class in order to see whether the classes required by the Greek university have been covered by the applicant abroad. This of course means that if there is no equivalent department in a Greek university teaching a given course, then one cannot have one’s degree recognised. In addition, degree material is very often sent for evaluation to departments that are academically unsuitable -- for example, analytic philosophy material is normally sent to psychology departments. 

To give a better idea of the absurdity of the process, consider the way that DOATAP handles the equivalence of degrees between Greece and other countries. According to DOATAP, Bachelors degrees must take at least four years to complete. If they do not meet this condition, they cannot be considered equivalent to a Greek degree. So anyone who only has a three year BA from another country, like a graduate from the University of Cambridge in the UK, would not be able to validate his degree in Greece. If he also had a one-year MA (to make a total of four years study), then he could only validate his degree in Greece if he gave up his MA in order to convert his four years study into that required for a Greek BA.

Furthermore, graduates with degrees from foreign institutions normally are obliged to take a large number of classes at a Greek university, and sit exams there, in order to fulfil the requirements for recognition of their degrees. For someone who holds a Bachelors, a masters and a PhD degree, this can be a process that takes years to complete. 

Dealing with DOATAP is time-consuming. It normally takes DOATAP six to ten months to reach a decision about what is required for a degree to be recognized once all the required paperwork is submitted. This is a clear violation of Greek law, which states that the process should not take more than sixty days. Not only that, but at the average cost of € 200 per degree, it is also a very expensive process. And once a decision is issued by DOATAP applicants cannot appeal, but are only permitted to re-apply for the exact same procedure (submitting fees, paperwork etc all over again) to be repeated -- in the hope that a new committee might reach a different conclusion.

If you hold a degree from a private college in Greece, things are even worse: for such degrees are not even considered eligible for recognition. Even if the college in question is a US- and EU-accredited academic institution, your degree cannot be recognised. And it’s even worse than this: no degree attained subsequently to that, from any university in the world, is recognised as valid. So if you have a BA from a private college, and then go to the UK or the US to do graduate work, the law has no process that allows these foreign degrees to be recognised. This is because, according to the law, these higher degrees have been attained without a Bachelors degree. So in this situation, you are, and will remain, a high school graduate only, according to Greek law, even if you have held academic positions abroad.

All this is completely antithetical to the contemporary educational thinking in Europe and, indeed, the European Commission has repeatedly called upon Greece to wave the requirements of DOATAP regarding the recognition of degrees attained from private colleges and foreign Universities and comply with European law. DOATAP’s non-compliance has resulted in the Greek state being fined by European courts, as well as by Greek courts, for not recognising – in direct conflict with EU directions - the professional rights of graduates of private colleges in Greece. 

Though at times there are discussions about changing the status quo in Greece concerning the recognition of such degrees, no proposed change has made it possible for such graduates to pursue academic careers, since academic careers in Greece require Greek degrees or degrees validated by the DOATAP.