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Student unrest continues despite concessions by the government

December 21st, 2012

Népszabadság believes the tuition issue will leave a lasting stain of shame on the image of the Prime Minister. Magyar Nemzet suggests that continuing demonstrations after the substantial concessions made by the government may backfire on the organisers.In Népszabadság, Ákos Tóth likens the Prime Minister’s successive moves in the wake of last week’s unprecedented student demonstrations to the hasty policy shifts that used to characterise his left-wing predecessor, Ferenc Gyurcsány. “His staff used to dread his new ideas, which forced them to make sudden policy reversals to carefully laid plans.” Mr Orbán declared on Saturday (15 December) that there will be no cap on the number of students to be admitted to the universities free of charge, and only two days later Parliament adopted a law allowing for 55 thousand non-paying admissions instead of 10 thousand as planned. Nevertheless, the demonstrations continue, because students oppose the idea that they should legally commit themselves to finding employment in Hungary at the end of their studies, and object to mandatory tuition fees will in certain subject areas, like law and economics. Tóth condemns government officials for trying to depict the students as too lazy to study and castigates Magyar Nemzet for its front page headline on Wednesday: “Nothing would satisfy the students.” He believes this episode is being handled shamefully by the administration and that this shame “will tarnish the image of Viktor Orbán’s people until their defeat and beyond.”

In Magyar Nemzet, Szabolcs Szerető admits that the students were right to be scared by the planned cuts in higher education funding. He also acknowledges that it would have been unjust to limit the number of free admissions to 10 thousand per year, because the poorest families would not have dared to plunge into debt to cover the tuition fees of their children, even at the favourable interest rates offered by the government. Those measures could have severely undermined Fidesz’s credibility four years after it conducted a successful referendum campaign against tuition fees. Following the government’s latest decision to raise the number of free admissions to the level demanded by the protesters, however, Szerető deems any further protests absurd, even if several points do remain to be clarified. The remaining demands will not make the population side with the students, the commentator believes. If the public were to be asked “whether they want to finance other countries’ supply of graduates,” the majority would answer “no.” The students are free to continue demonstrating, Szerető concludes, but warns them that after the government has backed down on the main issue, “they will be increasingly seen as puppets manipulated for political reasons from behind the scene.”

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