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Plan to increase Roma enrolment attacked

A RECENT plan using positive discrimination to give more Roma students a chance to study at the prestigious Medical Faculty in Bratislava has drawn few positive reactions from experts or the general public.
The faculty's dean, Pavol Traubner, announced on May 21 that his school would this fall be setting individual acceptance criteria for Roma med school applicants. Roma students will be required to score only 50 per cent on regular entrance tests, and their results will be listed separately from those of other students.
From this special list, the three top scores will be accepted to the faculty on top of the 330 students that the faculty plans to accept this year from the main application procedure. The faculty, part of Bratislava's Comenius University, annually turns down hundreds of applicants for lack of space.

A RECENT plan using positive discrimination to give more Roma students a chance to study at the prestigious Medical Faculty in Bratislava has drawn few positive reactions from experts or the general public.

The faculty's dean, Pavol Traubner, announced on May 21 that his school would this fall be setting individual acceptance criteria for Roma med school applicants. Roma students will be required to score only 50 per cent on regular entrance tests, and their results will be listed separately from those of other students.

From this special list, the three top scores will be accepted to the faculty on top of the 330 students that the faculty plans to accept this year from the main application procedure. The faculty, part of Bratislava's Comenius University, annually turns down hundreds of applicants for lack of space.

Slovakia's Roma population has generally lower education, health and living standards than that of the majority. The European Union has repeatedly demanded the country improve conditions for the Roma.

Few approved the medical school measure, however, with even some Roma themselves expressing fear it would invite a backlash among the majority Slovak population.

Alexander Patkoló, head of the Slovak Roma Initiative (RIS) political party, said "this proposal is definitely racist and will anger people. Citizens are already blaming the Roma, asking what more do these gypsies want."

But others in the Roma community, such as Milan Ščuka, deputy chair of the Roma Civil Initiative (ROI) party, considered the move positive and said it was a potential tool for "raising the level of Roma intelligence in general".

Admitting that the plan was an example of positive discrimination, Traubner insisted that the Roma needed such encouragement because, unlike other ethnic minorities in Slovakia, they faced "considerably worse social and health conditions."

"This is a genuine effort to ensure that these students can come here under certain relaxed conditions," he said.

Justice Minister Ján Čarnogurský suggested on May 26 that the faculty might end up in a legal battle if rejected non-Roma students lodged a complaint with the Constitutional Court.

"The reference point is the Constitution, which states that all citizens are equal," Čarnogurský said.

But Deputy Prime Minister for Human Rights Pál Csáky countered that the school would be accepting the Roma on top of their already planned number of students, and that "every school has the right to set its own rules of the game".

"Everywhere else in the world this would be called positive support. It's a common way of helping handicapped groups of citizens," said Csáky.

Klára Orgovánová, cabinet-appointed plenipotentiary for Roma communities, agreed the measure could motivate some Roma students to study medicine.

"Roma virtually do not apply to universities at all. Standard measures are failing, and when somebody comes up with a new solution, we should not reject it out of hand but wait and see if it bears any fruit," Orgovánová said.

As Comenius University Rector Ferdinand Devínsky is a member of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) party, the affair has also gained a political dimension, with the RIS's Patkoló suggesting the party was trying to attract the votes of some of the country's 380,000 to 500,000 estimated Roma in fall elections.

Patkoló mocked SDKÚ party functionaries, saying that "gentlemen like Dzurinda, Devínsky, Traubner or other jewels of the SDKÚ will probably not want to be treated by a 50 per cent doctor."

The SDKÚ has said the party had no influence in the introduction of the measure.

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