Two votes foil introduction of tuition fees in Slovakia

July 2, 2004

Legislation to introduce tuition fees at Slovak universities from January 2005 is to be redrafted after the country's Parliament rejected it - by two votes.

Martin Fronc, the education minister, said after the defeat that he had "lost the battle but not the war" and that it was not part of his "life programme" to give up.

Opponents of the Bill are prepared to accept tuition fees for part-time and external courses (for which the students would presumably be in at least part-time employment) but only if they are introduced in five to ten years'

time.

The parliamentary opposition says tuition fees would put an additional strain on people's budgets when the economy has to absorb the impact of the reforms necessitated by European Union accession and could deter many clever but poor young people from applying to university. Rudolf Schuster, the outgoing president, shares this view. Last February he attacked the Bill in terms that suggested he would refuse to sign it if Parliament passed it.

Ivan Gasparovic, the new President, was inaugurated two days before Parliament voted on the Bill. He, too, was expected to oppose it - his own party, the Movement for Democracy, is tiny, and he owes his presidency in large part to the opposition Smer (Direction) party that endorsed his campaign in return for a pledge that he would defend the welfare state against the reforms planned by the centre-right government.

The government remains committed to across-the-board tuition fees, which it says is the only way to finance urgently needed reforms and improvements in higher education.

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