Greek students protest against university overhaul

Thousands of students from around Greece on Thursday demonstrated in Athens on Thursday against a planned university overhaul mandated by austerity cuts.

Two separate demonstrations were held outside the education ministry and in front of Athens University in the city centre.

"We are fighting for strong university degrees," read a banner outside the ministry where around 2,000 students had gathered.

"We are not the generation of unemployment," said another outside the university.

According to the latest figures released on Thursday, unemployment for youths aged 15-24 is currently at 57.8 percent.

According to the education ministry, the overhaul is meant to address chronic deficiencies such as the dispersal of faculties across many Greek cities and towns.

Greece currently has 24 universities and 16 technical schools, combining for 534 faculties.

The ministry wants to reduce this to 21 universities, 13 technical schools and 384 faculties.

But the plan has also raised protests from rural towns that depend on student spending for their revenue.

In the western town of Messolonghi, where a local technical school is earmarked for closure, riot police were deployed over the weekend to keep a deputy minister away from angry residents, including the town mayor.

A study published last year showed that Greeks spend 5.2 billion euros ($6.5 billion) annually on education, even though much of the system is ostensibly free.

Greece's education system has been chronically plagued by funding shortages, poor quality and protests that can keep schools and universities shut for weeks.

Many Greeks traditionally study abroad -- with Britain and the United States the favoured choices -- but with unemployment among the young at over 50 percent, and incomes dwindling, families are facing stark choices.

Salaries in Greece have been cut by up to 40 percent under an austerity policy adopted by the cash-strapped country since 2010 in return for EU-IMF bailouts.