Ukraine students have received an unwelcome new year present from their government. The payment of grants has been cancelled, as from January 1, and in future will be paid only to those students who get top grades, and to those in particularly poor circumstances.
The decision was not unexpected. Grants have been paid erratically and late, so that by the beginning of December, the arrears had added up to $35 million.
In mid-December, education minister Mykhaylo Zhurovskyi had warned that the draft budget for 1997 covered 70 per cent of the sum needed for student grants and 55 per cent of the educational wage-bill.
This followed a swingeing economy drive, including the abolition of hot school meals for all except for first year pupils, charging part of the cost of text-books, cutting staff numbers and raising teacher-student ratios.
According to Mr Zhurovskyi, the education system is "threatened with total ruin". His ministry has worked out a crisis programme, but this seems little more than a holding operation, aimed at "preserving the existing system of training and retraining of specialists".
The Ukraine, Mr Zhurovskyi warned, simply could not afford an educational system "that was created under different social conditions" (ie the Soviet Union) and that the education ministry was running out of things to cut.