Why a postgraduate programme for the mountainous areas?

 Because, Greece is a mountainous country, 70% of its land is mountainous, it is the second most mountainous country in Europe. Nowadays, a few people live in mountains, but this was not always the case. For centuries Greece’s heart was beating in mountains. Especially during the Turkish rule, Greece was breathing freely up in the high mountains. There was life, there was production, there was civilization. Up to the second half of the 20th century. Beginning from the 1940, the mountainous areas of Greece underwent four major blows. The Second World War, the Greek Civil War and, then, two large “tsunamis”: the former of the immigration, in the ‘60s, and the latter of the urbanization, in the ‘70s, that drained the life from the mountains. They made mountains outcast of the developments, throughout all the levels. In this manner, the life froze in mountains, their productive base was attenuated.    

 Something was saved, though. Due to the “fridge” in which they got in, mountains were rescued from the juggernaut of a “makeshift” development, aesthetically poor, consuming values and destroying heedlessly the environment. Most mountainous areas remained untouched, untainted by this development. Today, it seems that the modern man is tired from the mundane life and environment of the cities and searches for evasion ways to the mountains. She seeks again the real life, in the pristine natural environment of the mountains and in the clearer relationships of the local societies. However, this gives birth to new problems.

Will modern man turn with a veneration to what has been saved, to the valuable natural and cultural heritage of the mountainous areas or will come to consume, to ruin what has been left, to walk away, once again, for good? The same dilemma begets also a question for the mountainous societies themselves. Will mountainous societies select a kind of development based on the actual human needs, a balanced and integrated development, or will they succumb to the enticement of the facile enrichment, which will consume very quickly anything genuine that has been left and will marginalize mountainous areas definitively.

These big questions are central issues of the postgraduate programme “Environment and Development of the Mountainous Areas”.

The fact that mountainous Greece was in the sideline was reflected on the educational level too. Up to now, there was no academic structure either in undergraduate or postgraduate level dealing specifically with the problems of mountainous Greece. In contrast, other mountainous areas already have, for years. Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Canada provide studies specialized on the mountainous areas, in undergraduate or postgraduate level. National Technical University of Athens throughout its course has always been staying alert to the great social problems. That is why it took the initiative of the founding and running of a postgraduate programme with specialization to the mountainous areas. 

What is new, what is innovative about the programme?

The postgraduate programme, which is also a pioneering experiment at educational level, has been based on five “keystones”:

The training is set up around real problems: This concept is deeply rooted in the community of the National Technical University of Athens. Are you a good scientist? Can you put that in practice? Go and test your capacity in true social issues. Not with simulations or Sudoku. Do you have strength? Climb the mountains and build solutions that can change the daily reality of the local societies. Even before the start of the programme, we talked with mountain societies, picked out key issues and on top of these issues we built the postgraduate programme.

Interdisciplinary and holistic approach of the issues: The issues in mountain regions are complex and each specialty has its own role to play. However, scientific community is not accustomed to work cooperatively. While all the major issues require many and various disciplines, the scientific community is fragmented, with unique communication code in every sector. Sometimes, there is indeed no communication at all between disciplines. In the postgraduate programme, the scientists from many and various disciplines find a common ground. The programme mainly accepts engineers, as it is implemented by the NTUA, but it also hosts scientists of many disciplines: sociologists, foresters, agronomists, economists, environmentalists, specialties that are all necessary. In this framework, a common code of communication is developed, a strong common understanding based on which the special skills of each discipline makes its own contribution.

Systematic dissemination of the results: From the first moment that something important is found, it is a norm for this postgraduate programmee to diffuse this result to the local communities. The results of research works, MSc and PhD theses don’t remain in the hard disk where they get forgotten. As soon as possible, they must reach the local societies. The production of knowledge in the programme is simultaneously a push in transforming the perception of mountain communities. It opens new roads. Therefore, the results must quickly inspire the local communities, to which they refer after all.

Experiential character of the postgraduate programme: Goal of this postgraduate programme is not just the students to learn about the mountainous areas, it is rather the students to experience the mountainous areas. To feel and understand what solitude and cold in a remote, mountainous village in the winter means. To have a first-hand experience of the beauty and the warmth of the talk in the coffee shop. To listen to fairytales, to talk with old ladies, to live with the people of the mountains and not just to travel over a place. In this context, educational trips are not a pleasant break. It is a major component of the educational process. Another goal is also to have a contact with unique highlanders. With alpinists, artists, with people who abandoned the city and set up a small enterprise in the mountain and create a future for them and their families. We find such people, we invite them to the postgrduate programme to convey their experience to us, their startup, the difficulties they face. We visit them to their place, we learn about their job, about their change in their lifestyle, about their future plans. The students see in practice the problems, the difficulties, but also the advantages of the life of these people. They are taught by their knowledge and by their experience, they gain a part of their soul’s flame.   

Internationalist character: Core element of the programme is the cultivation of the notion that there is a thin red line that binds Tzoumerka and Pindus with Kilimanjaro, the Andes, the Himalayas. Our students learn that the matter of rejuvenating the mountainous areas is a global concern and that they constitute a portion of a international movement defending the mountainous societies and wants to revitalize the mountains. 

Where the programme takes place?

The postgraduate programme is held, entirely, in the NTUA facilities in Metsovo, Greece. In the context of the programme’s philosophy, experiential nature and students’ dealing with real life issues of mountain regions would not be feasible from distance and by having work base in Athens. Only by living in the mountains, the students may fully achieve the 100% of the programme’s potentials. The majority of the students are accommodated in the modern facilities of MIRC in Metsovo, operating since 2005.

The facilities of the MIRC of the NTUA are located on the highest point of Metsovo town, 500m from the main entrance of Metsovo. The premises consist of three buildings which are arranged around an interior courtyard and surrounded by green areas. The main building includes the teachers’ and secretariat offices, four classrooms, entrance and waiting halls, the library, a multi-purpose room (events, exhibitions, etc.) and a large conference room. A second building is housing a pantry and an eating area (including kitchen), which are available to the students. The third building is the guesthouse. The guesthouse has 10 rooms for students and 4 for teachers and associates of the programme. Each room has a private bathroom. This building also has a fully equipped kitchen for the students. The facilities are modern, excellently constructed and of high architectural and aesthetic quality. The areas for education are well-equipped and offer full support to the students in order to properly complete the programme. The surrounding area of the buildings is also very well-cared and beautiful while the advantageous location of MIRC (view to the mountains Peristeri and Katara, very close to the gym, swimming pool and health center of Metsovo) makes the experience extremely pleasant in all respects.

The students are required to live under the same roof for a year. They are invited to share common areas and organize their life under rules that they build. They learn to work as a team, with the advantages and the limitations that comes along. They develop behaviors of teamwork and solidarity. They are “trained” to the norms of coexistence and enjoy the beauty of living together. The improvement of teamwork, cooperation, interaction and collegiality is the lesson that starts when the class is over.

How the postgraduate programme is conducted?

The way that the postgraduate programme is conducted is one of its most interesting features. Students live and study in the facilities of the NTUA in Metsovo during the whole year of courses (they do not stay on the premises after the end of courses and during the elaboration of the thesis). Teachers and their assistants move to Metsovo and stay there throughout their courses. Each course lasts two nonconsecutive weeks. So, each week a different teaching session takes place. The structure of the courses occurs in weekly terms because of the obvious difficulties of traveling from Athens to Metsovo (A 5-6 hours trip), but this is what offers unique conditions of contact between teachers and students.

A week of daily morning lectures and afternoon debates on the students work, the issues of mountain regions and even more deep concerns regarding mountain societies converts a dry process of knowledge transfer into an open continuous workshop of interaction and education. Teaching does not end with the end of lecture time. It continues during the conversations at lunch time, during the thoughts born in an afternoon coffee, during the frequent trips to the surrounding areas and during the many educational excursions. The weekly coexistence in the same place creates fruitful interactions between teachers and students and among students. Everybody learns something: Students from teachers, teachers from students, everyone teaches and is taught by the local communities. The aim of this postgraduate programme is not only to update the students’ knowledge on the mountains or to improve their ability to solve issues. We want this to be the year we spend together a rich, an unforgettable life experience.

And, perhaps, our greatest reward is that this is something that we hear often from our old students, who take every chance they get to return to the MIRC.

Dimitris Kaliampakos
Professor, NTUA