December 15, 2012 / 8:40 PM / 7 years ago

Hungary PM backtracks on college reform after rally

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary’s prime minister said on Saturday higher education would be free for those who meet entry requirements, backtracking on a plan to cut state-financed places at universities after mass student protests.

After meeting a group of students, Viktor Orban, whose government announced sweeping reforms in higher education last week, said in a video message on his Facebook page that his government would rework its proposal by next week.

He did not reveal details but said a more transparent and simple system was needed, which would abolish student quotas at universities.

Orban said: “I have understood that we have to make it clear in regulation that those who want to study in Hungary, and meet the necessary ... entry requirements, are determined to study and would like to work in Hungary afterwards — for them university and college education must remain free of charge, without any kind of indebtedness.”

“This is possible, and the minister will make a proposal accordingly for Wednesday’s government meeting.”

The conservative government, which swept to power in 2010, decided on sharp cuts in higher education earlier this month. From next year it planned to fully finance only 10,480 students, two-thirds fewer than this year. It has said it would partly finance the tuition of 46,000 more and offer subsidized preferential-rate student loans.

The plans triggered spontaneous student protests nationwide, and thousands of students staged a peaceful march across Budapest on Wednesday, blocking a bridge.

Students fear the cuts would shut out many from higher education and force many more students to seek a place at a university in those European Union states where education is free, such as in neighboring Austria.

They had pledged further protests. It was not immediately clear if Orban’s statement on Saturday would meet the students’ demands.

Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Stephen Powell

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