By Tom Rowley, Special Correspondent 27 January 2015
Meet the green tea-sipping Essex University don who schooled Greece's hard-left new finance minister
Mr Bailey holds a copy of the Thesis titled Optimisation and Strikes submitted to Essex University by Yanis Varoufakis Photo: Rii Schroer/The Telegraph
He is an unlikely radical. Roy Bailey’s grey shirt matches his hair and he drinks green tea in an office piled high with books on endogenous growth theory.
So the 67-year-old was “bemused” to learn that Yanis Varoufakis, one of his economics students for the best part of a decade, has been appointed Greece’s finance minister in the country’s new hard-Left government.
Mr Varoufakis, who has called the European Union’s austerity programme “fiscal waterboarding”, will now front demands to have the Greeks’ €240 billion (£180 billion) debt written off.
His unequivocal stance is bound to set Syriza, his party of socialists and Marxists, at odds with the rest of Europe.
Mr Bailey, an honorary senior lecturer in economics at Essex University, where he has taught since 1972, gave a teenage Varoufakis some of his first tutorials in economics. But his pupil went on to graduate with only a lower second.
Hold the celebrations: Greece is still doomed 26 Jan 2015
Mr Bailey went on to advise the student again for his PhD thesis, which credits the academic’s “useful” contribution.
Mr Varoufakis is not the only Essex alumnus playing a leading role in Syriza. The university, whose motto is “challenging convention”, has emerged as a nursery for Greece’s radical politicians.
It also schooled Rena Dourou, the governor of greater Athens, who was the party’s most senior politician until this week’s election, and Fotini Vaki, a Syriza MP for Corfu.
Sir Christopher Pissarides, a Cypriot economist who has criticised the EU’s position on debt relief, is also a graduate.
Mr Varoufakis graduated from Essex in 1981, gaining a 2.2 in mathematical economics. He stayed on to study for his PhD, awarded in 1987.
Mr Bailey, who was awarded an MBE last year for his 42-year university career, remembers Mr Varoufakis as a “very sound student”.
Greece's newly appointed finance minister Yanis Varoufakis (AFP)
“I wouldn’t say he was always scoring top marks,” he said. “You wouldn’t say this is a stellar individual we should send to Harvard. But he shone when it came to independent thinking.”
Even then, Mr Varoufakis stood out and was “always prepared to argue,” added Mr Bailey. “If he wanted to make a point, he’d make it. He was always forthright. He was a serious person.” He is proud of the former student’s new role. “It is pleasing,” he said. “It may be quite the opposite in a few months’ time depending how things go – I might be ashamed of him.”
Mr Bailey, who described his own political outlook as centrist, denied that he had influenced Mr Varoufakis’s outlook. “We’re just here to throw them a few ideas and let them get on with it,” he said. “You could say that the faculty was – and still is – radical, but in the sense of provoking ideas.”
He said that Mr Varoufakis was “pretty level-headed” and would not struggle to negotiate with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. “Whether he will win out, I don’t know,” he said.
Prof Todd Landman, the executive dean for social sciences, said the university had welcomed 4,000 Greeks in the past 50 years and it was merely a “coincidence” that so many went on to become Syriza politicians.
But he admitted that Ms Dourou, who completed a Masters degree in ideology and discourse analysis in 2001, was schooled in “post-Marxist” techniques.
“She was from the Left already and she would have responded well to the course. It was all about criticising modern society for its contradictions. She has re-imagined a Leftist vision for Greece and what she studied here probably helped her.”