Greece’s financial crisis that started in 2010 and resulted in sky-high unemployment and a shrinking economy, led to a significant brain drain with a painfully high number of young scientists and professionals abandoning their birthplace for better opportunities abroad.
In the last ten years, young academics, doctors, engineers, IT professionals and scientists have found it increasingly difficult to find work in Greece amid deep cuts to funding of publicly supported sectors.
Yet, those same young highly skilled Greeks, half of which have multiple degrees from the world’s top 100 universities, travel the world, settle in big cities and work hard powered with the determination to succeed and make their homeland proud.
Antonis and Vasileios left Greece seeking better academic opportunities in Australia.
They are currently studying at Melbourne’s Monash University, under the guidance of five – also Greek- academics who lead the Department of Econometrics and Business Statistics, a busy place, full of bright progressive people, that is now considered one of largest – if not the largest- Department of Econometrics in the world ranking amongst the world’s top 10, along with MIT, Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Cambridge and Oxford.
George Athanasopoulos and Vasileios Sarafidis head the Department as Deputy Head and Director of Education, respectively.
“Greece would benefit by providing the resources to students to be able to apply their knowledge in the real world and Australia would also benefit by incorporating more fundamental material in teaching, providing the Australian graduates with the ability to think more abstractly and critically,” says Antonis
Antonios studied Mathematics at the University of Athens, and came to Australia in February 2018 in order to continue and complete his PhD studies which he had commenced in 2015 with the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Liverpool, UK. He was awarded the M.Res. (Master by Research) Degree with distinction in Decision Making Under Risk and Uncertainty.
Currently aged 25, the half Greek-half Russian academic is a final-year Ph.D. Candidate & Teaching Associate with the Department of Econometrics & Business Statistics at Monash University and a member of the Stochastic Engineering Dynamics Lab at Columbia University, USA.
“I am working on developing efficient approximate techniques for solving non-linear Stochastic Differential Equations with applications covering a wide array of disciplines ranging from the physical-mechanical spectrum to fields such as chemistry, biochemistry and ecology with clear connections with quantitative finance. For instance, models based on the aforementioned equations are used in the financial sector to price derivatives. However, solving them using standard techniques requires valuable computational time to price with precision and the interested party might not be able to wait to buy said derivative at a later date, or depending on new information, the price that was predicted should change. That is one of the reasons behind studying and finding fast (in less than a second) approximate solutions to those equations,” says Antonis, whose family originates from Patra and Lesvos.
He points to the many differences between academia in Greece and Australia. “It should come as no surprise that Greek universities are ill-equipped when compared to Australian Universities, with all the resources and equipment which are available to teaching staff,” he says, adding that funding in Greece is scarce is his opinion – based on discussions with other PhD students or recent PhD graduates from Greek Universities. Antonis find that Australia offers more opportunities to acquire funding through the presentation of research at conferences, events or visits at other institutions.
“Greece would benefit by providing the resources to students to be able to apply their knowledge in the real world and Australia would also benefit by incorporating more fundamental material in teaching, providing the Australian graduates with the ability to think more abstractly and critically, instead of blindly applying formulas.”
Antonis believes it is no coincidence that there are five Greek academic professors in the Department of Econometrics and Business Statistics at Monash, one of many one Australian Universities in Australia. “This situation is not only an Econometrics and Business Statistics phenomenon, neither is it an Australian one but a worldwide phenomenon, as a consequence of the ‘brain drain’. The quality of education which is provided in Greece is surely of a very high standard, otherwise Greek researchers would not be employed in such institutions. Secondly, for a portion of these academics, surely, they would have stayed in Greece to conduct research and train the new generation of academics, however, this is a utopian scenario due to Greece’s current landscape with the minimal available funding for research and education.”
“It is very sad that such a large number of skilled and highly trained Greek professionals and academics have decided to live abroad partly as a result of Greece’s inability to provide them with comparable working conditions and living standards,” says Vasileios
Vasileios arrived in Melbourne in February 2018 to continue and complete his PhD in Quantitative Finance which he started three years ago at the University of Liverpool in England.
He is currently a PhD candidate and a Teaching Associate for undergraduate and postgraduate modules in the Department of Econometrics and Business Statistics of Monash University. Born in Ioannina, he spent the first 18 years of his life there before living in Athens, Manchester, Brussels, Liverpool and now Melbourne.
The 30-year-old holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in Computer Science and Quantitative Finance with areas of expertise that are of optimal portfolio selection and the pricing of financial instruments. “In the former, one needs to model the uncertainty about future market movements and decide on the optimal composition of a portfolio based on investor’s risk profile, while in the latter, we are interested in calculating the fair price of a traded financial contract so as for the capital markets to operate smoothly.”
Asked to compare Greek and Australian academia, Vasileios states he is one of the lucky ones. “Despite several problems Greek universities are confronted with (partly attributed to the severe crisis that hit Greece in 2010), I was lucky enough to complete my undergraduate degree in probably the most well-structured educational institution in Greece, the Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB) which is the workplace for some of the best academics in the country. My studies at AUEB provided me with a very solid and diverse knowledge background upon which I have been building since then,” he says.
“At Monash University however, one can without a doubt, enjoy the highest level of facilities, several funding opportunities and a working environment that allows for high productivity and optimal research outputs. Finally, Monash’s ability to attract world-class academics either as visitors or as staff members offers unique networking and learning opportunities. However, we should not forget that at the vast majority of Greek universities one can study for free and they cover at least the minimum student’s needs. In contrast, to study at an Australian-based university entails a large personal monetary investment.”
When looking at what Greece and Australia can learn from each other, Vasileios states that he has experienced differences in the structure, operation and culture of Greek and foreign institutions. “Greek universities clearly cannot compete with Australian ones in terms of funding and networking, given Australia’s position in the global economy and the proximity of its universities to large financial hubs such as Sydney and Melbourne,” Vasileios says.
“However, Greek universities offer a shining example of how one can acquire high-quality knowledge and skills, in the absence of an abundance of resources found in Anglo-Saxon universities. At the same time, a Greek university will equip its students with a great deal of specialised knowledge, since students can take advantage of the usually longer – compared to other countries – duration of their degree programs. On the other side, Australian universities constitute excellent case studies as to how investment in human capital and research overall, is directly linked with tangible results. Moreover, their organisation and well-distinguished structures along with their open-mindedness offer a unique cultural combination, highly transferable to other countries, including Greece, at almost zero cost.”
He finds it pleasant working with the five Greek professors of the Department of Econometrics and Business Statistics at Monash, and enjoys being able to speak Greek on a daily basis. “It definitely mitigates the feeling of homesickness and it’s always nice to interact with people of similar background and culture to you. At the same time, they are excellent examples of progress and show the way to success to young researchers and career starters like me,” he says.
“On the other hand, it is very sad that such a large number of skilled and highly trained Greek professionals and academics have decided to live abroad partly as a result of Greece’s inability to provide them with comparable working conditions and living standards. All in all, it should be in the top priorities of the Greek state to find effective ways to stop or at least slow down the ongoing brain-drain and offer motives for young researchers to start and build their career in Greece.”