Fees bill hits deadlock

Attempts to resolve the dispute over the adoption of tuition fees in Germany's Higher Education Framework Act appear to have failed. Both ruling coalition and opposition politicians now claim that a compromise is not in sight.

Social Democrats and Bundnis-90/Green Party politicians are demanding that a nationwide ban on tuition fees must be included in an amendment.

They have rejected a proposal from federal education minister Jurgen Ruttgers, a Christian Democrat, to get an administrative agreement between the Lander, or states, stopping any new regulation on fees up to 2003.

The agreement, which could not be cancelled, could have counted on the support of Christian-Democrat and Christian Social Union-governed Lander.

Some Social Democrats initially welcomed the move, but it has now been rejected by all opposition parties on the grounds that an administrative agreement would not be binding on state parliaments.

For example, tuition fees that have just been introduced in Baden-Wurttemberg would not be removed. There fees are charged when a student exceeds the standard period of study (which varies according to the type of institution) by more than four semesters. They have to pay DM 1,000 (Pounds 330) every six months.

The committee mediating between the federal parliament and the federal council is likely to recommend banning tuition fees. But this will certainly be turned down by the parliament.

Mr Ruttgers has said that the coalition government of Christian and Free Democrats will enforce the new act without the approval of the Social-Democrat governed Lander if necessary. This is possible if the federal chancellor backs them but is legally controversial.

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