Thousands of students rallied in Athens and other Greek cities on Thursday in protest of the government’s planned education reforms that would allow the introduction of private universities in Greece.

According to Reuters, it is expected later this month that Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ government will submit a bill to parliament that would permit private universities to operate across the country.

The schools will operate as branches of foreign universities says the government, but many believe this move will devalue degrees from the existing public universities in Greece. There is also concern that the private system will exclude those who cannot afford it.

Christina Iliopoulou, one of the students who protested in Athens said the change will “tear apart the public university as we knew it.”

“It will destroy our daily life in terms of how we will be able to find a job after we graduate.”

The protests were reported to be mostly peaceful but there was a brief clash in the main Syntagma square in Athens between police and the protesters, with the former resorting to the use of teargas.

Kathimerini also report that clashes between police and students took place in the northern city of Thessaloniki, outside Aristotle University.

For decades, universities in Greece have been government-funded where attendance has been free, but the nation has implemented a series of education reforms in the past despite fierce opposition from students and staff.

However, the government argue that the reform would bolster the economy by luring back some of around 40,000 students now studying overseas and reverse a brain drain of academics prompted by the 2010-2018 debt crisis.

Last week they said the new curriculum will follow very strict academic standards and that the change would also benefit public tertiary institutions by freeing them of bureaucracy and boosting their self-governance.