Lower house rejects bill on university fees

On Wednesday, the Czech lower house rejected a bill which would for the first time ever introduce tuition fees at Czech universities. Pavla Horakova has more.

The bill on university financing was submitted by Petr Mateju of the right-of-centre opposition Freedom Union. Mr Mateju's proposal envisaged tuition fees of between 6,500 and 19,500 crowns a year (that is between 200 and 600 USD) - depending on the type of university. It also included a loans system and provisions allowing for delays of payment for students in difficult financial situations

I asked a few students at Charles University what they thought of Wednesday's vote and tuition fees in general.

"I think it's good, because first the state or the ministry of Education has to provide decent conditions for us and then they may ask for school fees."

"Well, actually I think that tuition fees are good if the school is good, so it really depends on the quality of education that is provided. I agree for example if you have to pay tuition fees for additional years of study or something like this but I'm not so sure about general tuition fees."

"I think I wouldn't mind at all. I think that money can't be the main motivation for students to study and do their best at school but still I think it might help at least a bit to improve the financial situation of schools which I believe is not very good."

The rejection of the bill was no big surprise for Mr Mateju who was aware of the low support for his plan across the Czech political spectrum. He said after the vote that the rejection of the bill would lead to further stagnation in higher education. On the other hand, the Education Minister Eduard Zeman welcomed the result saying the bill had been poorly prepared and there were no reasons to introduce tuition fees.

Opponents of the bill said the introduction of tuition fees would limit access to university education for students from low-income families. Mr Mateju said however that tuition fees backed by a system of bank and even state loans would encourage students from low-income families who may now be hesitating to apply.

Observers say that the outcome of the parliamentary vote was greatly influenced by the timing. Only a few months before the general election, some parties might have been afraid they would lose precious votes, although according to statistics, up to 60 percent of the population would not mind if tuition fees were introduced.