Czech students protest over broken funding promise

November 2, 2001

A row over higher education funding in the Czech Republic has triggered student protests in several universities. The protests continued even after the immediate cause of the students' grievance had been removed.

Vaclav Klaus, chairman of the opposition Civic Democratic Party, said the fact that the students had carried on with their actions showed that they were not just seeking money, but wanted a confrontation.

The controversy began over a promise by education minister Edvard Zeman that the state budget for 2002 would include an additional Kcs 1 billion (£19 million) for universities. When the draft budget was submitted to parliament, however, this sum was not there. The opposition Freedom Union, Christian Democratic Union and Social Democratic parties immediately demanded that the minister resign.

Student action followed. At the University of Oloumec, students began interrupting lectures in protest against what they termed the "dire financial situation of the universities".

In a sign of the growing confrontation between the Czech university establishment and the government, the ruling governing body of Charles University called on rector Ivan Wilhelm to organise a protest against Mr Zeman's failure to provide the promised extra funding.

Meanwhile, the Czech parliament rejected the draft budget and sent it back to the cabinet for revision. Mr Zeman said that an extra Kcs2 billion would be provided next year - but that it would not come from normal state budget funds. He refused, however, to say where it would come from.

Mr Klaus said that no extra money should be invested "without at least an elementary sign of the systemic changes needed in the university financing system".

To put more money into higher education without these changes would be like "pouring more and more petrol into a car with a non-functional carburettor, a leaking fuel pipe and and several holes in the fuel tank", Mr Klaus said.

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