Hamburg. Plans by Germany's new red-green coalition government for a national ban on student fees could face a legal challenge from the conservative state of Bavaria.
Bavarian education minister Hans Zehetmair, of the ruling Christian Social Union (CSU), said he would at first defy the ban and would challenge it in the constitutional court if necessary.
"The federal government is not even near to meeting its financial obligations to higher education, but now it wants to prescribe how the states should finance their universities," he said.
Bavaria opposes fees for first-time students but wants to keep open the possibility. The neighbouring state of Baden-Wurttemberg has already introduced fees for students who take longer than the fixed number of semesters to finish their degree courses.
The plan for a national ban on student fees is the most controversial part of the new Social Democrat-Green government's coalition contract.
The agreement pledges to develop the higher education framework reform passed by its predecessors, including a reform of employment conditions.
It promises a swift reform of student maintenance to put more money in student pockets. This will be followed by more far-reaching reform by the end of 1999.
The coalition pledges a considerable increase in spending on research and education over the next few years, but has dropped the SPD election pledge to double spending on education and research.
The parties have also agreed to accelerate a special programme aimed at increasing the representation of women academics in higher education.
They will cut bureaucracy in research funding and put more weight on environmental research aiding social and ecological progress. They also promise better support for research by small and medium-sized companies.
The coalition plans a new boost for peace research and conflict-resolving research, which has fallen by the wayside recently.
It will continue promoting biotechnology and genetic technology for the development of new medicines. But genetically altered foods will have to be clearly labelled and the effects of genetically altered plants will be monitored.