Throughout my career I have had the pleasure of working with a quite a few Greek computer scientists and I have to say that I have found their skill level to be very good overall. I find a fairly higher than average ratio of female to male Greek developers, and I also find a lot of developers have gone on to study further and achieved PhDs. So it was in this vein that I decided it was time to look into what the explanation of this could be.
Only the higher academic achievers study Computer Science
After completing the equivalent of A-levels (the Apolytyrion), Greek students who wish to attend university then take the “Panhellenic National Exam”, a national test that covers a broad variety of 6-7 subjects (making it much closer in variety subjects tested to a Baccalaureate than the more subject-specialist British A-level system). Each student is then nationally ranked and the students with the best scores get to choose what subject they want to study, at which Higher Education institute, naturally choosing the most demanding courses at the most prestigious places, and vice versa, the lowest performing students get the least choice of subjects to study, at the least prestigious HE institutes. In effect this makes highly demanding subjects like medicine and engineering (including Computer Science) at the very best universities the hardest to be admitted to.
Which means that in Greece not just anyone can choose to study computer science at University, and only the very brightest get to attend the very best institutes.
The Top Greek Universities for Computer Science are not “Universities”…
These are the top 3 Greek universities for computer science:
- National Technical University of Athens (aka EMP)
- Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
- Technical University of Crete
However none of them are strictly speaking “Universities”, the “National Technical University of Athens” is a polytechnic, as is the “Technical University of Crete”, and the “Aristotle University of Thessaloniki” has two parts to it, its Engineering Faculty which is a Polytechnic and the traditional “university” part teaches everything else. This is because in Greece Computer Science is often taught by an Engineering Faculty, and Engineering is almost exclusive taught by polytechnics, not by universities.
In general the Polytechnics give a more rounded, more practical level of Computer Science education and so, as with Poland and France, in Greece it’s regarded that Polytechnics Are Better Than Universities. As you can see from the three top universities above, somewhat unhelpfully its quite hard to actually tell from the institute’s name if its a polytechnic or a university.
Within these universities, different institutes have reputations for different things. So for instance the University at Crete has a long established reputation for being one of the top Universities in Greece but today it is considered that Computer Science is very well taught there. It has a lot of new equipment and seems to have attracted a younger set of professors who are more likely to have worked or taught abroad to teach the course. Athens EMP on the other hand is considered to have a more traditional approach to teaching its course, and an older set of professors.
Honourable mentions also include the University of Patras and the University of Ioannina for their computer science departments, and it’s also worth pointing out that there are many universities in the city of Athens, and as a whole they have a generally good academic reputation, although the National Technical University of Athens (aka EMP) is considered the best for Computer Science.
Only Public Universities Are Recognised
In Greece although private Universities exist, they are not strictly permitted and the education you receive from them is not supposed to be recognised (for instance you would struggle to get a job as a civil servant with a degree from a private university). Only public universities are recognised, and these are considered the best. There are no tuition fees to attend university, although students must still pay for their cost of living, becoming a potential factor when considering Post-Graduate exams.
How do you know if it’s a good degree?
So apart from the name of subject that was studied and the name and type of institution it was studied at, there are 2 main ways to tell if someone has excelled at their degree.
One is the length of time they have studied. It takes a minimum of 4 years to complete a university degree and 5 years to complete a polytechnic degree, which is equivalent to a Masters, or MEng. As with private universities before, the Greek Government does not recognise 3 year degrees. However, students are allowed to retake exams if they don’t get the grade they were hoping for. Meaning that in general any degree achieved in under 6 years is considered to be very good. When students take longer than 6 years to complete a degree in Computer Science you can start asking questions as to just how many times each exam had to be retaken until the desired grade was achieved.
The other key factor is the final grade. Greek students graduate with a percentage mark out of 100, in a weighting that is pretty similar to the UK system. Any mark above 80% is exceptional, a grade above 70% is very good, and 60% is still good being treated in a similar way to a 2:1 is in the UK. The professors in Greece joke that no-body except God gets a 100% mark, and that 90% is for the professors only!
What’s covered in the Computer Science curriculum?
Greek students will tend to begin a course in computing or informatics or applied informatics, and will then specialise their studies in to areas like programming and software engineering in the second year. Because the first year covers quite a broad computing curriculum many Greek developers will have a basic foundation in areas like networking, infrastructure, electronic engineering, etc.
It’s very common for students to have completed some kind of academically related extra-curricular activity alongside their degree, such as contributing to post-graduate research or a complimentary programming project which will often be published in an academic journal.
Alongside main stream subjects, graduating in computer science will also involve studying mathematics to quite a deep level. There seem to be mixed feelings about this, some people say it doesn’t do any harm, whilst others believe the depth of mathematical competency that must be achieved in order to graduate is too much. Any for students who want to specialise in areas like networking, it is simply irrelevant.