Czechs split over tuition fees

January 18, 2002

The Czech government has criticised legislation brought before the country's parliament that is designed to introduce university tuition fees of about 16,000 koruna (£300) a year.

Education minister Eduard Zeman said the bill, sponsored by Petr Mateju, a member of the rightwing Freedom Union, would cause suffering to poor students.

Bankers would be the only ones to benefit from the plan, the minister said. Mr Mateju argued that a system of scholarships, state-backed loans and concessions for low-income students, built into his proposals, would guard against inequity.

But, deputy prime minister and Social Democrat party chairman Vladimir Spidla said much of the money collected in fees would be swallowed up in administration costs.

Mr Mateju and supporters of tuition fees - who include most university rectors - said the scheme would allow an extra 50,000 students to enter higher education in the Czech Republic every year.

The country has one of the lowest higher education admissions rates in Europe. University leaders have consistently criticised the government for failing to reform a sector in which undersubscribed and outdated engineering-based institutions continue to attract funding, while humanities and arts-based colleges struggle to cope with rising demand for places.

Many students and parents oppose fees in a country with a tradition of free education, but proponents argue that with little prospect of increased funding, it offers the only way forward.

Jiri Zlatuska, rector of Brno's Masaryk University, said the government had to find ways to fund the expansion of higher education necessary for a growing knowledge-based society.

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