Matt Heaney reports from Germany
On Tuesday 18 June around 8,000 students demonstrated in the German city of Düsseldorf against the planned introduction of tuition fees in the North-Rhein-Westphalia state. Students broke through police lines to reach the regional parliament and occupied the buildings.
On the same day a number of students disrupted Chancellor Schröder, who was defending the plans, at an election rally in Mühlheim.
Due to a tax reform carried out by the SPD-Green federal government, many states are in financial crisis. In NRW, the regional government is in the red by 1.4 billion euros and its SPD-Green government wants to get 90 million euros from students.
Tuition fees were announced at the beginning of May and a strike wave lasting weeks followed. Cologne Poly and Dortmund University are still on strike, and Niederrhein Poly are holding a "flexible strike", in which a particular college, or part of a college (e.g. one faculty) goes on strike for a day, and the next day another college or faculty strikes.
Strikes were called after general meetings of hundreds, and in some cases thousands. Eckhert Niemeyer, chair of the AStA (students' union) at Düsseldorf Poly, told Solidarity that he was disappointed (!) at the turnout at such meetings, "We get around 700 or 800 students at our general meetings. There's around 7,000 students here, so that's only 10% or so."
As well as strikes, meetings, demos and actions such as leafleting or street theatre in town centres, students have also held alternative lectures outside college buildings, often with the support of teaching staff.
One-third of Germany's 1.5 million students study in the state of North-Rhein Westphalia. The NRW government plans to charge each student a "processing fee" of 50 euros per semester, or 100 euros per year and to charge "long-term" students, that is, students who "take too long" (longer than six years) over their studies, 650 Euros (around £400 pounds) per semester. Most German students "take too long" because less than 10% qualify for the meagre grant-loan combination, and more than 80% finance their studies themselves through working. 45,000 students in NRW have been studying for 10 years or longer.
If such fees get pushed through in NRW, the rest of Germany's students can expect something similar soon. Particularly if, as is expected, the ruling SPD-Green coalition in Berlin, led by Schröder loses the general election in September to the right-wing Bavarian Tory Stoiber, who has made no secret of his desire to destroy what is left of the "social" side of the German "social market economy".
More info on the strikes: Action Alliance Against Tuition Fees (in NRW), www.abs-nrw.de