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Education Minister: 'we did not backtrack'.

Byline: Elias Hazou

THE MINISTRY of Education yesterday put on a brave face, brushing aside the notion it had suffered a setback in its ongoing dispute with secondary teachers over state university admissions of students based on international exams.

On Wednesday the Cabinet approved a proposal to regulate admission procedures at the University of Cyprus (UCY) by opening up for the first time three percent of positions to students taking GCEs, the remaining 97 percent reserved for public school pupils taking the national exams.

But faced with opposition from the union of secondary school teachers OELMEK, threatening not to invigilate the Modern Greek exam coming up next week, the Cabinet decided to postpone implementation of the GCE admissions until the next academic year.

The proposal was forwarded to parliament yesterday, with a recommendation that it be fast-tracked for a vote. It included the contentious clause regarding the GCEs, although that clause would be a dud until 2010-2011.

But by majority vote the parliament yesterday rejected the motion to fast-track the bill, with only AKEL voting in favor.

The opponents of labeling the bill urgent included DISY. Though being the main proponents of the GCE concept, DISY thought it a "travesty" that a proposal which is not to take effect for another year should be fast-tracked.

The government portrayed this as a tactical maneuver to avoid a showdown with teachers where the only casualties would have been university applicants left in the lurch.

By law, only public school educators may run the national exams--annulling an offer by the university to invigilate the Modern Greek exam themselves. Had UCY gone ahead and invigilated anyway, the exams would have been declared void.

"We did not backtrackC*.it was a compromise to save the exams," Education Minister Andreas Demetriou told the Mail yesterday.

The UCY declined comment. Rector Stavros Zenios said only that the university's Senate would convene "to discuss the latest development."

The outcome was seen as a temporary victory for the teachers' union, which was expected to stand down and call off its strike action for the exams.

Union head Eleni Semelidou said, however, that they would decide definitively on the matter tomorrow.

She said it was "inconceivable" for the government to draft a proposal and forward it to parliament while the dialogue on the matter was still ongoing.

Semelidou went on to accuse the ministry of authoritarian methods. "They say they agree to dialogue, but then say they have already decided. Is this democracy?" she wondered.

"It's 1-0 to the teachers," said a source close to the dispute, who thought the controversy over university admissions was part of the clash between OELMEK and the Education Ministry in the broader arena of public education reform.

The source said OELMEK had behaved "just like a trade union," and cited several reasons why the secondary teachers were opposed to opening up admissions at state universities.

"Food for thought: the less public school pupils admitted to state universities, the fewer who take extra private lessons and cram for exams at institutes, where public school teachers are known to moonlight."

Copyright Cyprus Mail 2009

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Date:May 15, 2009
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