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Free Tuition Bill Passes First Reading, Social Dems Cry Foul

University of Tartu Main Building
University of Tartu Main Building Source: Photo: Postimees/Scanpix

Although the Reform Party says the higher education reforms are still in need of thorough review, the party helped its coalition partner IRL's bill pass its first reading in Parliament.

The Social Democratic Party opposed the amendment to the Universities Act, calling it a blatant lie to the public. The Centre Party refrained from voting.

Supporting speedy implementation of the measures, the Reform Party still wants to work out a number of issues, including lightening the full course load requirement for tuition-free education, a new scholarships and needs-based financial aid system, and the role of state exams and entrance exams in college admission.

The Social Dems were the most ardent opponents of the bill, saying that the number of students studying free of tuition would shrink, not grow. Only those would be able to afford free education, the Social Dems said, whose families' financial standings permit them to study without having to hold a job on the side.

"We have reached the conclusion that the substance of the reforms, as well as the accompanying rhetoric about free higher education, is based not so much on a substantive desire to improve the quality of something that is so essential for society - as that would require a much deeper analysis and a more consensus-based decision - but rather a political necessity to to quickly follow through on IRL's election promises," said MP Jevgeni Ossinovski.

"In any case, lying to the public in such an important matter is morally reprehensible," said Ossinovski.

Meanwhile, the Centre Party withheld from the vote, expressing awe that a bill that is still in the works had even been put to a vote, but also recognizing that a substantive, multi-partisan discussion had taken place.


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