Students topple director

November 3, 1995

(Photograph) - The dismissal of Romania's director general of higher education marked an important victory for students in the second week of a general strike over the introduction of university fees.

The strike saw upwards of 20,000 students marching through Bucharest and several provincial university cities, while all faculty activity was suspended.

The sacking of Ovidiu Ianculescu, who had held the post for 17 years, was carried out despite assertions from Liviu Maior, the education minister, that such action was "out of the question".

Student bodies had initially demanded the resignation of the minister himself. The move is considered to be a significant concession by the government in the face of mounting unrest among the country's students at what they consider to be anti-constitutional provisions in a new education law and unacceptable living conditions in university-provided accommodation. Students temporarily suspended their action to see how the government responded.

Top of the agenda is the introduction of fees for tuition and for the re-sitting of examinations. At present a token charge is levied only on entrance examinations.

According to the Students' League at Bucharest University, the measure contravenes the Romanian constitution, which guarantees free public education. The government has already softened its position to allow individual universities to fix the level of change. Students have also taken exception to a provision in the law governing the appointment and suspension of rectors, which they say places limits on autonomy.

The value of scholarships and the criteria for their allocation is also an issue. The students have demanded half-price public transport and the lifting of charges for electricity in student halls.

The general assembly of students in Bucharest has called for the annulment of two articles in the law on fees and further amendments to ensure greater university autonomy.

The government has held out against amending the education law passed in June for fear of setting what senator Vasile Vacaru described as a "dangerous precedent". The Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania has demanded amendments to the same law on the issue of education in the Hungarian language, a source of ethnic tension in the country.

Nicolae Vacaroiu, the Romanian prime minister, has authorised an inquiry into claims that police used excessive force at a rally in University Square during which several students were injured.

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