Minister who got his sums wrong is forced to quit

August 4, 2000

Plans for reform of Poland's higher education system are to be revived following the forced departure of the country's education minister.

Miroslaw Handke resigned following a parliamentary vote of no-confidence. His successor, Edmund Wittbrodt, a former rector of Gdansk Polytechnic, immediately announced that he will re-activate the plans.

The no-confidence vote was tabled by the opposition Democratic Left Alliance, which said that Mr Handke had failed to secure money for education, misled the teaching profession and was responsible for deepening educational barriers in Poland.

Mr Handke was responsible for reforms - introduced at the beginning of the 1999-2000 academic year - that tackled secondary education with the aim of ironing out social inequalities to improve access to further and higher education.

However, a public opinion survey in June revealed that 60 per cent of respondents did not think the reform ensured equal access.

Moreover, 35 per cent considered that the education system had deteriorated since the reform and just 9 per cent considered it an improvement.

Professor Wittbrodt is committed to continuing with the reforms - but with certain "corrections".

The principal reason for Mr Handke's fall from grace was an amendment to the Teachers' Charter that promised school teachers a pay rise. The amount involved was miscalculated and local authorities received from the budget only a third of the subsidy needed. Mr Handke admitted that he had got his sums wrong and promised to ask the finance ministry to make up the extra 800 million zloty (Pounds 123 million) out of budgetary reserves. But with pro-government MPs also on the warpath, Mr Hanke had little choice but to resign.

His successor has committed himself to ensuring teachers get their rise by September 1.

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