People make the Difference
Greece has one of the highest numbers of degree-educated adults according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Meanwhile, initiatives aim at reversing brain drain.
Greece’s human capital is arguably the country's biggest asset.
Greek families place enormous value on their children attending university, resulting in some of the highest educational outcomes among those surveyed by the OECD (May 2019).
Greek employees are well-educated, polished in foreign languages, and possess strong IT skills. English is, by far, the most favoured second language in business, and in fact it is often the main language of doing business in Greece, especially in tourism and shipping – the twin drivers of the economy.
With tourism employing close to 50% of people in the workforce directly and indirectly, according to a spring 2019 report by the Greek Tourism Confederation’s intelligence body (INSETE), it is not surprising that many of Greece’s post-secondary educational institutions offer 360-degree courses in hospitality studies, emphasising languages skills as well as IT training.
On a per-capita basis, more students from Greece travel abroad to study in foreign higher education institutions than in most other countries. Popular university destinations include the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Cyprus, and the United States.
In fact, the proportion of 25-64 year-olds in Greece today who hold a general degree is one of the highest in the OECD. According to data ranking 37 OECD and partner countries, based on secondary or post-secondary education levels, Greece comes in at 7th place. The fields of science, technology and engineering are particularly favoured. This comes despite low performances on OECD PISA tests in primary-level education benchmarks.
Notis Mitarachi Minister of Migration and Asylum (Former Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs)
Notis Mitarachi, former Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Affairs, says labour and social security reforms will create quality new jobs and a more viable pension system, while efforts are underway to get young professionals who left the country in recent years to return and help ‘ReBrain’ Greece.
“Greeks traditionally invest in education, particularly graduate and doctoral education, and for us this is a priority,” says Notis Mitarachi, Greece’s former Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Affairs. “We are one of the highest exporters of students in the world. All of this creates a very strong human capital base, comprised of white-collar jobs, and highly skilled, well-educated, multilingual professionals,” he adds.
The conservative government that came into power in the summer of 2019 has said it aims to encourage the return of the large number of well-educated people who emigrated abroad.
Indeed, the economic crisis that plagued Greece over the last decade prompted a shocking brain drain of more than 400,000 Greeks between 2010 and 2017, who sought better employment prospects abroad. Most were highly educated according to research by Manolis Pratsinakis, an Onassis Foundation Research Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Department of Politics and International Relations.
Also underway is a proposed series of reforms to Greece’s higher education system that would contribute to place Greek universities in the international limelight, and boost competition amongst public and private sector institutions.
But a proposed overhaul to the state-run higher education system would change this, granting equal status to graduates of private colleges. “We have set out to change the Greek constitution – something we hope we will be able to achieve – to allow private universities to further strengthen the high quality of public education we already have in the country,” Mitarachi underlines.
In the meantime, Greece’s Education Minister Niki Kerameus unveiled plans in January 2020 to attract foreign students – particularly non-EU nationals – to study at Greece’s universities. The minister told the Financial Times that she hopes between 40,000 to 50,000 foreign students will be enrolled in English- language courses by 2024. The initiative would see new university courses made available in English, increasing revenues through tuition fees, while also benefiting Greeks who want to deepen their language skills.
The recent initiative, called Brain Regain, is spearheaded by the non-profit association Hellenic Roots (Ellinikes Rizes) and is backed by 16 major Greek companies aiming to ‘regain’ thousands of Greek professionals who left during the crisis.
The mass exodus of workers during Greece’s crisis involved degree- educated professionals mostly aged between 18 and 35 who work in economics and administration, engineering, and IT fields, according to ICAP.
The Brain Regain initiative foresees high-ranking executives mentoring those returning to Greece for three months. Flagship companies include: Aegean Airlines, Alpha Bank, Athenian Brewery, Hellenic Corporation of Assets and Participations S.A., Kyklades Maritime Corporation, LeasePlan, METRO, Microsoft, Potamitis Vekris, Trans Adriatic Pipeline, Sani Ikos, T.E.MES, YGEIA Group, Upstream, Xerox Hellas, Zepos & Yannopoulos, The Bank of Greece, Eurobank, Fourlis Group, BEAT, DESFA, Hellenic Petroleum, Cosmote, Coca-Cola HBC, Titan, Piraeus Bank, Entersoft, Interamerican, Ogilvy, OTIS Greece & Cyprus, and Chipita, in addition to the non-profit association Hellenic Roots.
In December 2019, the Greek Labour and Social Affairs Ministry also announced incentives and measures to motivate professionals to return to the country. Under the pilot programme, ReBrain Greece, businesses are enticed to give well-paid jobs to 500 professionals aged 28 to 40 who are currently working outside of the country. The minimum monthly wage has been set at €3,000, with 70% covered by EU funds for the first year. The participating companies will eventually have to pay the same salary to these employees for at least another year.
“We’re providing incentives to companies to hire young, highly skilled, and highly educated Greeks living abroad who want to come back,” says Mitarachi.
There are indeed a number of initiatives aimed at attracting Greece’s expat professionals. If successful, the ground is fertile for Greece to forge ahead – benefiting from technology and other key knowhow transfer – while making the best of its talented human capital.