F-word sparks greyhead revolt

October 27, 2000

A German university is facing a new wave of student protest over the introduction of fees - this time from elderly students.

Senior students at Hanover University are threatening a legal challenge to a new regulation that charges students over 60 years of age €255 (Pounds 148) a semester. Until now, the university has demanded only a nominal €102.

Ruth Gladisch, aged 70, who is in the third year of her masters in German literature, said she feels "cheated" by the regulation, which affects about 150 students.

"It is a cheek to ask me, someone who has worked for more than 40 years and paid taxes to help finance universities, to pay to study," she said. "I am one of those of the postwar generation who was unable to study for economic and political reasons. I was a social worker and had to pay for my education and training. Now I am being asked to pay again."

Ms Gladisch is organising other senior students to help her mount a legal challenge. "It is not about the money - it is a question of equality and justice." She called the education ministry's decision to charge the over-60s "arbitrary".

The Social Democrat-Green coalition government wants first degrees to remain free in German universities. As there is no consensus, however, fees remain one of the most emotive issues of the slow reform of higher education.

Social Democrat Thomas Oppermann, Lower Saxon education minister, supports fees. All students in Lower Saxony pay a €51 a semester "administration charge", a term used to avoid the "f-word". Universities can charge over-60s and non-enrolled "guest students" up to €511 a semester.

Hanover University's Katharina Wolf said the university was legally obliged to charge over-60s the fee, but she said it did not generate much income.

It could prove more lucrative, however, if it were introduced in other states. About 40,000 senior citizens, who are known as "greyheads", study at German universities.

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