When it comes to academic heritage, Greece is hard to beat. The ancient Platonic school at Akademia, in Athens (established circa 387 BC) was one of the first and most significant institutions of higher learning in the world, lending the name 'Academy' to the tradition of collective scholarly inquiry that it helped to found. The full legacy left to the modern university by Ancient Greek learning is far more substantial than a name, however. In Ancient Greece the Academy and institutions like it were conceived as arenas in which questions of fundamental importance to the wider community could be debated and defined, ranging from theories of civic identity and political rights to questions about how the natural world could be properly observed and accurately described. Plato's claim in The Republic that the state would be best run by philosophers, or that poetic and other 'imitative' arts be regarded as dangerous, might not prove popular in all parts of a modern university campus (!) but there are few of today's academic disciplines that don't owe something to traditions of thought and inquiry originally established in Greece.
Modern Greek higher education is rightly proud of this classical heritage, and cities such as Athens and Thessaloniki still serve as centres of research and scholarship. The country is also an active participant in the reform and regulation of European university education, participating in the Bologna Process and the European Credit Transfer System. All of this makes Greece an excellent place to consider for PhD study abroad and, of course, with a Mediterranean climate, a beautiful landscape and an unrivalled selection of world heritage sites, Greece is also a spectacular place to live during a doctorate.
The Greek university system is organised into two different pathways that divide institutions into a University Sector and a Technological Sector. This distinction isn't simply pragmatic; it represents a core principle of the Greek educational philosophy, which uses distinct institutional specialisms to match students' personal educational and training goals with the country's economic and civic needs.
As a PhD student in Greece, you will be interested in the University Sector. This is where the bulk of academic training and research takes place and it is therefore these institutions that are entitled to offer doctoral programmes. Some postgraduate education is offered by institutions within the Technological Sector, but these tend to be taught Masters programmes in a limited number of disciplines, often offered in partnership with academic universities.
There are 22 institutions in total within the University Sector, including general universities with various faculties as well as more specialised technical universities and other institutions focussing on particular academic disciplines. All can potentially offer PhD programmes in the fields of study they pursue.
The institutions in the Greek University Sector are publically run and state accredited. The Greek Ministry of Education is ultimately responsible for establishing effective guidelines and provisions for universities, with periodic inspection and advisory work conducted by the Hellenic Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.
The prestige of Greece's scholarly heritage and its growing popularity with international students has lead several foreign universities to set up overseas campuses there. The Greek government allows these to operate relatively freely, subject to approval and registration with the Ministry of Education. Most are small colleges specialising in fields that benefit from their Greek location or cater to local educational needs. As such, not all branch campuses will necessarily offer doctoral programmes, but they can be an attractive option for students looking for an English language course or to gain a qualification accredited by prestigious international universities. You can read more about postgraduate study at international campuses in our article.
The Greek academic year runs for a full 12 months, between September and August. This period is divided into two semesters, with holiday periods at Christmas and Easter and a longer summer vacation during part of June and July.
PhD's at Greek universities operate in a similar manner to programmes elsewhere in Europe. Your primary concern will be the completion of an extensive and original research project and this will usually take between three and six years to complete. Some programmes include additional training components, which may take the form of taught classes or directed courses of study.
Supervision for your project will be arranged by your institution. In Greece it is relatively common for PhD students to be assigned a committee of supervisors, which may include external experts (this is particularly likely if your university conducts work in partnership with one or more non-academic research centres). Individual supervisors will take on different roles according to their expertise, but you will usually have a primary academic mentor within your institution who will be responsible for monitoring overall progress and offering guidance on the project as a whole.
Once your project has been written up to a satisfactory standard, your supervisory team will officially approve it for submission and examination. Submitting against the advice of your supervisors is possible, but, unsurprisingly, this isn't recommended!
The examination process itself can involve several stages. An initial committee may be set up to assess the written thesis. This will usually include at least two external experts and a member appointed to submit a written report on your work. This committee must find the thesis to be satisfactory before you can proceed to a final oral examination and defence. The defence itself takes place in front of a panel of experts (often including the assessment committee), and will need to satisfy the majority of these examiners for the PhD to be awarded. Unlike in many other countries, a Greek PhD examined in this way may be awarded an additional grade; all passing theses are designated as 'Good', with particularly meritorious or exceptional work being defined as 'Very Good' or even 'Excellent'.
Admissions procedures are usually determined by Greek universities. As a rule, you will be required to hold a Masters degree (or its equivalent) in an appropriate subject, though candidates with substantial relevant experience may be admitted to some Greek PhD programmes. Greece uses the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) and recognition of previous qualifications from elsewhere in Europe will not usually be a problem. Qualifications from outside Europe may need to be confirmed, but your institution should be able to assist and advise with this. You can also contact the Hellenic branch of the European Commission's National Academic Recognition Information Centres (NARIC) with enquiries about your existing degree/s.
Greek universities will set up their own applications process, but, as with any doctoral research proposal, you should be able to outline your suggested project and demonstrate that it meets the standards of academic rigour and originality required of a PhD.
Most university teaching in Greece is carried out in Greek, but English-language programmes are becoming increasingly common at postgraduate level. A push towards internationalisation has also led to universities being established in Greece that offer their programmes entirely in English. Where appropriate, universities may require non-Greek or non-English speakers to demonstrate proficiency in the language of instruction for their programmes; you should contact the admissions department or international office at your prospective institution if you think this may apply in your case.
Citizens of EU and EEA countries will not usually require a visa to enter Greece for study, but may need to get a residence permit in order to remain in the country for longer than three months. Similar arrangements will apply to students from countries in the Schengen Area.
Students from countries outside the EU and the EEA will usually need to apply for a 'type D' visa in order to enter Greece. Greek embassies or consulates in your home country will be able to offer advice and commence the application process for you. In addition to providing identification documents, your application will need to demonstrate that you have been accepted at a Greek higher education institute and that you have sufficient funds or sponsorship to support yourself during your studies. Some countries outside the EU and the EEA maintain agreements with Greece that negate the requirement for student visas. A list of these is available from the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, along with other useful immigration information.
Though higher education is free for Greek nationals studying on undergraduate (first cycle) courses, the situation for foreign students on postgraduate programmes is more variable. In most cases, non-Greek students will be required to pay towards the cost of their education, but EU citizens may be eligible for a reduced rate. As a result, there is no clear guideline figure for PhD fees in Greece, but institutional websites and admissions departments should be able to provide you with up to date information and confirm what fees will (or won't!) apply in your case.
Even if your PhD incurs no fees (or you are entitled to a partial waiver) you may still need funding to support yourself whilst living as a postgraduate student in Greece. Thankfully a range of options exist specifically to support foreign students looking to study at Greek institutions. Charitable funds like the Alexander Onassis Foundation offer scholarships for foreign students, and the Greek government offers its own Greek Government Scholarships for Foreign Students as part of its drive to encourage internationalisation in Greek higher education. A State Scholarships Foundation also offers support to foreign students - including specific postgraduate awards - and operates with the Erasmus+ programme. You can read more about Erasmus funding for postgraduate study in Europe here.
Our own postgraduate funding website provides a comprehensive database of small grants and bursaries available to support postgraduate study around the world, including travel bursaries, living cost support, fee waivers and exchange programmes. Click here to start searching for funding to study a PhD in Greece, or elsewhere.
The Greek education system is committed to internationalisation and participates fully in the European Higher Education Area. As a result, your PhD will stand you in good stead for an academic career at universities around the world. The specific features of a Greek PhD - such as the emphasis on comprehensive supervisorial expertise and a rigorous examination process - will also help your qualification to stand out. Plus, there's something to be said for having earned a doctorate in the country that gave birth to the values of academic inquiry and expansion of learning that define the PhD degree today.