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Children march to protect schools from cuts

ANGRY pupils took to the streets in Austria this week in protest at ministers' attempts to increase class sizes and charge students for further and higher education.

The governing coalition of the far-right and conservative politicians is trying to use education to bring Europe's largest budget deficit back into line.

Schoolchildren carrying placards marched on the parliament in Vienna and placed tape over their mouths to symbolise how, in their opinion, the government was stifling opposition and refusing them a voice.

The conservative People's Party dumped their long-time socialist partners and opted to link up with the far-right Freedom party of Joerg Haider in February. Wide-ranging cuts were immediately announced.

Among the changes are an end to free education with a fee of pound;250 for each six-month term in further and higher education, as well as plans to increase the numbers of pupils in classrooms.

The practice of offering university professors "jobs for life" is also under threat, and wage cuts for teachers are possible.

Finance minister Karl-Heinz Grasser sid the reform in schools would mean larger classes and fewer teachers, but that Austria's education system would still be an exemplary example for other countries world-wide.

He said putting more pupils in classes would save pound;110 million and another pound;88m would be raised by charging for further and higher education.

But a recent study by economists Richard Sturn and Gerhard Wohlfahrt said that the government's planned tuition fees would generate only pound;40m a year net. Fees would be charged only to students who do not sit the exams - around 25 per cent at university level.

Education spokesperson for the opposition Social Democrats, Dieter Antoni, accused the government of "bulldozer policies" that endangered the quality of education.

And the president of Vienna's education advisory board, Kurt Scholz, said the government was ignoring the fact that many schools were already "hopelessly overfull" - some with classes of more than 40 children.

Green party education spokesperson Dieter Brosz said it would mean a return to pupil:teacher ratios last seen in the 1950s.

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