by Symela Touchtidou, @stouchtidou

Some say that for Greece, it could be as lucrative as the tourism sector.

Others point to the fact that we would be creating “ambassadors” of the country worldwide.

In many European countries, tertiary education fueled by foreign students is a driver of growth. Brexit has mobilized European institutions to claim a slice of the now increasingly expensive English-taught education in the United Kingdom

Greece has only recently joined the race.

The country offers a variety of postgraduate studies in English, but lags behind in undergraduate programs.

Only recently a law passed (law 4692/2020) that allows state universities to introduce English-language undergraduate programs reserved exclusively to foreign students.

The universities can organize such programs for citizens of countries inside or outside the European Union, who are graduates of high schools or equivalent schools based abroad.

We should note that in Greece there are no private universities, as the Greek constitution forbids their establishment.

The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA) was the first Greek university to present such a program. The Bachelor’s in Archaeology, History and Literature of Ancient Greece debuted in difficult circumstances, during the Covid-19 crisis, so enrollment was not impressive. But the university is confident things will pick up. And it prepares another Bachelor’s course, this time in Medicine.

Medicine could be a showpiece for Greece. It is certainly for the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, where the first English-taught undergraduate program in Medicine starts this academic year. More than 1,200 applications from several different countries for just 60 places means there is a prolific market to tap.

Before the state institutions could come onboard, Greek private colleges collaborating with foreign universities offered undergraduate studies in English and hosted students from abroad.

And, of course, there is the International Hellenic University. An initiative that started in 2005 by the Greek state, with the vision of making Thessaloniki, the city where it was first based, an international education center.

Later, it was merged with technological Schools and Departments of other cities in North Greece and currently runs as University Center of International Programs of Studies (UCIPS). It offers 24 postgraduate programs exclusively taught in English and plans to launch the first Bachelor’s program in English, “Oil Technology”, based in Kavala city.


Concerning the overall education “balance”, Greece remains in deficit.

It “exports” more students than it “imports” and it has a lower share of foreign students than in total across the OECD.

In Greece, the share of foreign or international students decreased from 4% in 2014 to 3% in 2018. Meanwhile 5% of Greek tertiary students are enrolled abroad compared to 2% in total across OECD countries (Education at a Glance 2021: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris).

Most foreigners that vote for Greece come from Cyprus. It is worth noting that, compared to other OECD countries, Greece has one of the lowest percentages of students from Asia.

Room to grow

Greece misses out on a flourishing (before the pandemic) market. International student mobility has been expanding quite consistently in the past twenty years.

In 2018, 5.6 million tertiary students worldwide crossed their home country’s borders to study, more than twice the 2005 number.

The needs of increasingly knowledge-based and innovation-driven economies have spurred demand for tertiary education worldwide, while rising wealth in emerging economies has prompted the children of the growing middle classes to seek educational opportunities abroad.

At the same time, economic factors (e.g. costs of international flights), technological factors (e.g. the spread of the Internet and social media, allowing contacts to be maintained across borders) and cultural factors (e.g. use of English as a common working and teaching language) have contributed to making international studies substantially more affordable and easier to access than in the past (“What is the profile of internationally mobile students?”, Education at a Glance 2020: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris).

Advocates of investing in the extroversion of the Greek education say Greece possesses irrefutable advantages.

  • First, its nice weather and the beautiful landscape.
  • Second, its strategic geopolitical place.
  • Third, the low tuition fees and the affordable cost of living.

According to OECD, “tuition fees in public institutions in Greece are among the lowest for a Bachelor’s program across countries with available data.”

Τhe practicalities

Is it easy for foreigners that pick Greece to actually relocate in the country?

Emmanuel Galanos,
NKUA student

Emmanuel Galanos, a 25-year-old US citizen of Greek origin, decided to join the NKUA Batchelor’s to fulfill his dream of studying archaeology in Greece.

It is funny because I am the only one with Greek origin in the class,” he says. “I have a co-student from Toronto, one is an ex-marine from Maine, New England, another is half Swiss half UAE. Many of my classmates have never even been to Europe before”.

The first hurdle is getting in touch with the Greek embassies.

I needed to get some paperwork together, I needed my high school diploma, my first certificate and a few other papers certified, get the apostilles. When I called the Greek embassy, it was very hard to get hold of them, I took a couple of months to get through to them. And I had to drive to Florida to finally prepare all necessary documents,” he explains.

And then there is the paperwork that needs to be done in Greece.

Bearing in mind that most of the foreign students have never heard Greek before and that many public servants do not speak English, it could be a challenge.

This is where the Schools come in.

With the school’s help it was pretty easy finding an apartment. A school employee contacted different property owners and send us pictures of the houses so we could choose. The school also helped me to get a personal Tax Identification Number (AFM) to be able to sign the contract. As for healthcare and the AMKA number (that is necessary to get free health treatment and vaccination in Greece), the school never brought it up, so it kind of escaped my mind. I thought the AFM and the AMKA number were the same thing. So, now I have to wait to get my AMKA number to get vaccinated (against Covid-19) and be able to attend classes,” Emmanuel told us.

The paperwork

To apply for a program foreign students need apostilles.

Apostille is a certificate, by which a Notary Public authenticates a document as genuine, thereby legalizing it for use in another member country of the Hague Conference.
Once a document has been apostilled, thereby providing official authentication of the signatures and stamps appearing on it, it is automatically deemed legal for use in another member country of The Hague Conference (source: Greek ministry of Foreign Affairs)

To live in Greece, foreign students need

  • a personal Tax Identification Number (AFM) to sign a rental agreement
  • private healthcare insurance (mandatory)
  • an AMKA number to access the public healthcare system (optional)

Study in Greece”

Recognizing the need for an institution to help foreign students, a team of faculty members and students from the Informatics and Telematics department of Harokopio University of Athens, started the “Study in Greece” (SiG) initiative, in 2015.

It began as an information portal where international students could easily find information about the diverse study options –bachelors and masters– offered by Greek Universities as well as other type of information, advice and suggestions concerning visa, accommodation, cost of living and everyday life in Greece.

Christos Michalakelis, project manager of SiG

Nowadays it focuses on the promotion of the wide variety of English programs available to foreign students.

Even if Greece is a hospitable European country open to foreign cultures and mentalities, and, as a matter of fact, international students here don’t encounter any issues associated with language difficulties or cultural adaptation, we do have to surpass some obstacles,” says Christos Michalakelis, project manager of SiG.

Fortunately, the Greek state along with the country’s Universities and public institutions seem to have understood the perspectives of studying abroad, a strategic plan is being set up and more and more initiatives are being taken in this direction. Moreover, the administration of the Ministry of Education, recognizing the importance and the potential of the internationalization of the higher education, provides legislative updates to overcome the procedural and other kind of problems and obstacles. Nevertheless, there are a lot of things to be done. The modernization of bureaucracy with the facilitation of some processes related to the enrollment of foreign students, the enhancement of diverse services and infrastructures (from accommodation to research), the creation of more scholarship programs constitute some areas-actions we should focus on, and which can lead to Greek HE’s rejuvenation.”

This issue of Greek Business File is dedicated to the internationalization and the extroversion of the Greek Higher Education. We talked with the protagonists from state and private institutions, foreign students that have decided to come to Greece and we present a comprehensive feature of the “English speaking” tertiary education in Greece.

The September/ October issue of Greek Business File is available here.