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Macedonian students occupy university, demanding bigger influence on higher education reforms

SKOPJE, Feb. 11 (Xinhua) -- Hundreds of students occupied the buildings of the faculties of law, economics and philosophy at Saints Cyril and Methodius University here on Wednesday, calling for greater student influence in the country's higher education policy.

The protest marked the first major student demonstration in Macedonia's capital in years and was organized by the NGO, Student Plenum.

"We are opening a new chapter in Macedonian student activism. This time, the students have decided to take back what belongs to them initially and to declare a university controlled by its students," Student Plenum's Dejan Lutovski told Xinhua on Wednesday.

Lutovski said the students were prepared to occupy the buildings for days and would not attend classes, but instead organize alternative lectures and events targeted at criticizing the model of post-secondary education in Macedonia.

What provoked the student revolt was the adoption of an amended law which would see the introduction of a state exam, a reform that was not supported by the majority of students. This kind of exam, according to Student Plenum, directly violates the universities' sovereignty and autonomy and also the constitution of the country which states that every person has a right to education. The law also stipulates new criteria for the career advancement of professors.

Last week the Macedonian government announced its intention to revise some of the crucial legal reforms. The National Assembly Wednesday adopted the revisions that will postpone the implementation of the new law for two years, but the students are not convinced that the promises will be fulfilled. They demand a completely new law, one which will include their perspectives and consult them on all important changes concerning the high education system.

Leposava Ognjanoska is a student at the faculty of law in Skopje. was demonstrating in the name of student freedoms and the loss of trust in government institutions.

"We stand one next to another and we teach the country about democracy and human rights. We simply can't remain silent. The university belongs to us and we have to be consulted for every major change," Ognjanoska said on Wednesday.

The students have publicly addressed all citizens, asking them for support in the form of donations to help them maintain the occupation of the university for as long as possible.

Some of the professors have shown support for the students, joining them in the occupation.

"We support them in their demands. If we need to sleep here, we will. If we need to bring them food, we will do that, we will help them. We are part of them and the university belongs to us - to the students and the professors," Sinolichka Trpkova, a professor of dramatic arts said on Wednesday.

Both the Ministry of Education and the university administration have refrained from commenting on the protests.

The biggest student protests in Macedonian modern history were organized in 1997, against a law passed by the Macedonian authorities regarding the Pedagogy Faculty. The final stage of the protests involved a hunger strike.

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