To avoid fees, try a little oompah

March 2, 2007

Austria's Education Ministry is considering a bizarre plan to exempt students from paying university fees if they agree to join one of the country's lederhosen-wearing brass bands.

Horst Wiedenhofer, head of the Styrian Brass-Music Association, said:

"Brass bands are part of the Austrian way of life. Here, in Styria, there are about 500 towns and villages. Of these, 390 have their own brass bands.

"Austria is famous all over the world for this type of music - and we need to support it, encourage it and make sure it remains a vibrant part of our way of life."

Under the government plan - which is a bid to end a countrywide wave of student protests over a broken election pledge to scrap fees - anyone who plays in a traditional brass band will be exempt from tuition fees.

Other activities that would exempt a student from paying fees include being Boy Scout leaders, volunteer firefighters, or working with the Nature Lovers' Society or the Alps Society.

Austria's 2006 general election gave the Social Democrats the largest number of seats, but they did not win a sufficient majority to form a government. The party eventually formed a coalition with the Conservatives, but to secure the deal it had to agree to drop an election pledge to scrap the widely unpopular student fees.

In a bid to defuse student anger over the broken promise, Alfred Gusenbauer, the Chancellor, announced the plan to offer exemptions after looking at the Israeli example: under the Perah programme, students who do 60 hours of social work in a semester are exempt from paying fees.

The proposal, which was the subject of Dr Gusenbauer's first press conference as Chancellor, was put together after "intensive talks with Haim Harari", one of the founding fathers of the Israeli exemption system. But the Chancellor stressed that the final arrangements would be made by the Education Ministry.

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