Chemistry department of the University of Athens
This short report is considering perspectives for enhancing fruitful interaction between the Chemistry department at the University of Athens and industrial development in the country. It comes as part of an evaluation project that was conducted at the request of the department, the undersigning acting as a member of the committee formed to carry out this project. The scope of the issue covered guided to a separate text as a useful addendum to the main report of the evaluation study.
Over the last two decades or so, the development trend of Greek economy (as in most parts of the world) favours strongly the service sector. Contribution of manufacturing and industry to GPN has declined from more than 20% in the early 70's to under 15%. However part of the growing services sector is now better linked to the manufacturing industry, on either the supply (e.g. EDP and quality assurance) or demand side (market research, technical service). The links are not necessarily organic but may materialise through out-sourcing to independent firms classified under the service sector.
On the other hand, in recent years the Greek industry has acquired access to a new horizon of potential growth due to opening up of the eastern European economies, particularly in the Balkan region. Many firms are already very actively involved in this area. The driving force for such development can be easily reckoned to be product quality and eventually technology transfer to the strong local industrial tradition. International competitiveness of the Greek firms judged under such criteria, accounting also for the weak purchasing strength of the local economies, will therefore be a major factor for success.
It would appear that as a consequence to such developments future needs of employment for chemistry graduates in the Greek market may favor a two-prong general scheme: (a) light diversified education through disciplines broad enough to cover growth sectors with sufficient R&D capability. These general directions are briefly discussed below are thought of as possible evolutions that will encompass the present curriculum and could be available as side options within that curriculum.
The need for broader education to the graduates is evident by their interest in taking up available seminars in e.g. quality or management education seminars. An offer of mixed courses as are available in other countries, for example, may help to diversify employment possibilities and career involvement under the operating circumstances of the Greek economy. The need is also felt in the other side, where induction of new chemistry graduates into the service sectors in particular may be expected to eased by a broader education.
There will be certainly a small growing demand for expertise and R&D capability in certain growing sectors of the Greek manufacturing industry. The food industry should be mentioned in particular in this respect, as it also ties in with the traditional presence in the chemistry department of the Athens University of a food chemistry laboratory. However any other core expertise that could evolve out of a reorientation and topical strengthening of current activities can probably lead as well to employment possibilities for a small number of trained research people in the medium to long run.
R&D activity in the Greek industry has been very limited traditionally, basically due to the small size of the firms and their restricted market range which discouraged in-depth specialisation and hence the need for applied research. The recent developments earlier mentioned however are also strengthened by the globalisation of commerce and there is now a good number of Greek industrial firms expanding internationally, seeking actively an international competitive role in their business areas. Industrial research establishments exist now in this country and need is more widespread than it used to be.
The food chemistry must be mentioned again here as a possible dynamic recipient of expertise and applied research work. It is indeed the best growing industrial sector in Greece, with international activities. Moreover, the most important part of the industry is situated in Athens. The existence of a food laboratory at the university offers an obvious point of strategic significance for future directions of reseat at the chemistry department. Another point to note is the interdisciplinary nature of industrial R&D issues, which calls for networking and mobility of resources, including personnel.
The central geographical location and cultural function of Athens for the country, and to a sought-for degree for the broader region, must be a constant provider of interest for international scientific contacts. Opportunities will certainly exist for closer contacts with business circles as well, so that an open attitude to co-operative work of industrial importance should pay off, provided administrative facility is also adequate for academic scientists to engage in such activities.
Dr Demitrios Tsimpoukis