La Trobe University’s leadership has been inundated with community letters, a petition (nearly 4,000 signatures on Friday) and requests for media interviews following the 11 November announcement for a consultation on the termination of the Greek studies program.

A generic response sent to Neos Kosmos was all we got until Friday noon when representatives of the Greek community met with Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Susan Dodds, Professor Simon Evans of the College of Arts Social Science and Commerce, Head of the School of Humanities and Social Science Dean Nick Bisley and Katie Phillis, Head of the Vice Chancellor’s Office.

The Greek delegation was there to push for the consultation process to be extended, for the university to understand the ramifications which the decision to terminate language will have on other aspects of the Greek Australian community. And after listening to the group, they took home a plethora of arguments in favour of continuing the program which they “will think about”.

Greek Community of Melbourne (GCM) President Bill Papastergiadis spoke about the issue of funding, pointing out that with the grants that are available and student fees, it is a “self-financing” program. “I then spoke about the importance language has to our culture and equally on the university’s perspective in having a relationship with industry. I outlined the broad reach our language has in numerous sectors in our economy. I emphasised that the Greek community is committed to working collaboratively with the university, and that we are here to problem solve,” he said, adding that Jorge Menidis, Greek Centre director, spoke about how the language program has significant economic and community value to the community and Victorian economy though aged care, social services, banks, and legal services.

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An out-of-the-box thinker, Mr Papastergiadis even invited the university’s stakeholders to meet at the Greek Community Centre to showcase how it is to work together going forward in unique ways, such as “for example, hosting La Trobe University’s summer school program at our centre,” he said, asking for a deferment of the time of the consultation period and/or an opportunity to work with the community in general over two years – such that the decision is deferred for two years and we can see what traction we can get in terms of increasing student numbers.

A numbers game

La Trobe University stakeholders explained that the development was “largely a strategic decision driven by COVID-19 but which fits within the university’s positioning as to where it needs to be going forward” but also a financial issue. For the program to be viable, they would like the numbers tripled.

GCM member Nick Dallas noted that there were 10,000 students at the moment doing Greek studies at Victoria, a critical mass that can be used to drive additional students to the university.

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Greek Consul General to Melbourne Dimitris Mihalopoulos made the point that the Hellenic Republic will continue offering a seconded teacher to assist the program, that there will be a senior person visiting Melbourne in 2021 as part of bicentenary and they will visit La Trobe University and highlight the significant financial investment of Greece to the institution. Apart from the future GCM Vice President Theo Markos pointed to the past, speaking of how the Greek community has been in partnership with La Trobe for many years, including seminars offered from the Dardalis Collection last year and the Australian Research Grant (ARG) that has been jointly initiated. As for the present, GCM member Spiros Papadopoulos referred to an increase in enrolments in recent years.

The university delegation said they “heard the message loud and clear” but also pointed to “challenging times”.

“They will come back to us,” Mr Papastergiadis said, though a date for this was not set.