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International Youth Day 2009

How much for an ounce of knowledge? – Accessible higher education as a prerequisite for sustainable societies

Accessible higher education has never been a more important issue in Croatia. Mass student demonstrations with huge public and civil society support point to the poor education standards and lack of respect for youth rights.

Accessible higher education is a burning issue on the world-wide scale which requires a strategy resting on sustainability and social responsibility. It must be endorsed not only by all segments of society but also by responsible government institutions which are currently facing justifiable expectations. Making higher education accessible testifies to government's willingness to support student population, to let it be known that knowledge is appreciated, that young people are a valuable resource and that sustainability of every society lies in their hands.

Accessible higher education comprises equal access to institutions of higher education and their programmes, access to student housing and information on student rights and opportunities. A large number of students in Croatia does not have basic information about their rights and opportunities, and access to study programmes and student housing is often limited by unclear criteria and unjust allocation. Moreover, studying in the Republic of Croatia is expensive.

While economically and socially developed countries invest significant resources in raising higher education standards, the Republic of Croatia is notorious for costly tuitions and a low level of investment in education at all levels. For example, higher education is free in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden and Norway. Tuition is still paid in some countries: Hungary up to 300 euros, Lithuania 320 euros, Portugal between 465 and 850 euros. In Croatia tuition fees range from 750 to 1270 euros. While some countries invest in higher education as much as 2% of GDP, Croatia is at the bottom of the scale with 0.87% of GDP. 23 of 27 EU Member States allocate more.

A disturbing trend is reflected the increased number of students who pay for their studies but also in the steady increase of tuition fees. It is unacceptable that, in times when knowledge is a prerequisite for development and when the Republic of Croatia has set a strategic goal of becoming a "knowledge society", a large number of young people is not able to start or continue their higher education due to financial reasons. We also denounce social relations whereby education becomes a privilege of the rich, and education is no longer accessible to everyone according to their abilities. Such conditions will necessarily deepen socio-economic gap between the Croatian citizens, but also add to low level of competitiveness of Croatian workforce on the European labor market.

The Croatian Youth Network calls upon the Croatian Government to initiate legislative process to make higher education in the Republic of Croatia completely free for all and to start investing more in quality education, according to European examples of good practice.

The Croatian Youth Network demands that higher education should become a matter of public funding and not be a privilege of those who can afford it. Accessible higher education is a human right whose realization testifies to democracy, social inclusion and social responsibility.

We wish to once again express our public support to students in their fight for human rights, the fight for education of all people, the fight for bigger investment in youth as a resource of social development. We support every struggle for social justice and equality.

And we will continue to strongly support the voices of young people against the commercialization of education because we want to see Croatia focus its development towards becoming a true knowledge society. We want to see all citizens who wish to study have an opportunity to do so regardless of their financial status and are able to contribute to a more equitable and sustainable society.


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