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Hungarian students continue protests despite some government concessions on education reforms

Hungarian high school and university students went ahead Wednesday with protests against changes in the education system despite the government's acceptance of some of their demands.

In Budapest, the capital, several thousand students gathered outside the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, dissatisfied with the concessions announced by the government. Calling their protest the "Winter Rose Student Revolution," they later marched downtown and threw rose petals into the Danube River.

Government spokesman Andras Giro-Szasz said that the Cabinet had decided to drop plans greatly cutting the number of state-sponsored scholarships and will guarantee at least 55,000 full scholarships next year, the same number as this year. He added that spending on higher education would increase by at least 24 billion forints ($110 million) in 2013.

Students, however, also oppose signing a contract requiring them to work in Hungary for several years after graduation if they accept studying at the state's expense. They are also calling for comprehensive reforms to the education system, claim the current changes were planned haphazardly and want the government to consult with them before implementing any more reforms.

Several student protests over the past two weeks — in Budapest and cities around the country — seemingly changed Prime Minister Viktor Orban's mind about his intentions to make higher education in Hungary become practically self-funding in coming years.

Orban was a student leader in the late 1980s, when Hungary was still under communist rule, and his Fidesz party was formed in a university dormitory in 1988.

More recently, however, Fidesz has accentuated its conservative policies and has made ensuring that pension payments keep pace with inflation one of its top priorities.

Students braving near-freezing temperatures outside the Academy of Sciences said they were frustrated by the confusion caused by the government's decision to make sweeping changes just weeks before the deadline for university applications for the 2013 school year.

"Instead of tying us here, they should build a country which no one wants to leave," said high school student Antal Molnar. "The government needs to quickly understand that the road it is on is unacceptable to us."

Molnar said his father had escaped to Mexico during communism and brought his family back to Hungary in 2002 "believing Viktor Orban's dream of that time — that Hungary is our home and we must succeed here."

Students also called for the resignation of Education State Secretary Rozsa Hoffmann and vowed to continue their protests until all of their demands are met.