MPs tussle for state campuses

December 11, 1998

The Portuguese government is in disarray over competing requests for new state universities to be set up in regional cities.

Prime minister Ant"nio Guterres has ruled out any new institutions during this government.

But members of his own Socialist Party are now breaking ranks to stake their claims for universities to be established in their constituencies.

The opposition Social Democratic Party started the process by attempting to push through proposals for four new institutions to be set up in Braganca, Viseu, Castelo Branco and Estremadura. It is presenting the idea as a way of promoting regional development in the poorer interior of the country.

Several Socialist Party politicians have since defied party discipline to put forward their own suggestions.

Deputy minister Armando Vara favours a new university in northern Braganca, while Jose Junqueiro, president of the parliamentary Socialist Party, only withdrew his demands for a university in Viseu after the government made some concessions.

MPs are keen to show voters they have their interests at heart prior to next year's general election and a new university is seen as a boost to local economies. However, Mr Guterres is adamant that universities will not be created for electoral reasons.

The issue is particularly sensitive in Viseu where anger is still running high after it lost a high-profile battle to play host to a new faculty of medicine. The new medical school will instead be located in the town of Covilha.

As a consolation prize, the government is considering whether the nearby University of Aveiro should be authorised to open up a new centre in Viseu.

Doing a deal with a private university to provide places on the same terms as a state university is another possibility.

"We wish to consolidate Portugal's existing higher education institutions," Mr Guterres said on a recent visit to Covilha.

"This does not include creating as many universities as there are MPs on the electoral circuit," he added.

Instead he favours encouraging established universities to set up new centres in places without higher education provision.

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