IT WAS inevitable that some groups would start making bigger demands of the state on the back of government assurances that public finances had been sorted out and the economy was on the road to recovery. The association representing all the university student organisations, POFEN, has demanded that state spending on student grants return to 2012 levels and took the liberty of making proposals on how the funds should be allocated and the incomes criteria that should be in force.
POFEN, in an announcement, expressed its dissatisfaction with the education ministry’s draft bill governing student grants as it was prepared without the ministry engaging in “a social dialogue with interested parties.” It believed that “many discussions and exchanges of views with POFEN, welfare services of the universities” and other organisations should take place before a decision was reached.
Everything in Cyprus must be decided through social dialogue with all the interested parties giving their views, which must then be taken into account by the government when drafting a bill. This practice of government-by-committee has reached such absurd levels that even secondary school teenagers criticised the education minister for not consulting their representatives before finalising school reform.
With regard to student grants, there are no rational grounds to giving POFEN or any other organisations a say in the setting of government policy. State expenditure on student grants and the setting of the incomes criteria for eligibility is the exclusive responsibility of the government, because its spending decisions are part of the annual budget in the shaping of which many other factors are taken into account. Neither POFEN nor any other interest groups are aware of these factors and therefore are in no position to express an informed opinion about grants.
There is also a constitutional issue. The elected government has the constitutional authority to decide how the taxpayer’s money should be spent and to decide how student grants should be allocated. No group has the right to impose its views, in the name of ‘social dialogue’. But POFEN went as far as to demand data and documentation from the ministry as if the latter was in some way accountable to the students and had to justify its decisions to them.
Why is the education minister afraid to take a stand against the lunacy of ‘social dialogue’ that prevents real reform and perpetuates the sense of entitlement that blights our society? Would it be so difficult for him to say that how much is paid in student grants and to whom was up to the government to decide and would be determined by what the state could afford and not what POFEN believed students were entitled to receive?
Students should be grateful that the state offers some grants to students in need and not always demand more.