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1. 6. 14
Source: migrationonline.cz
Country: Slovenia
More than one thousand students who come to study in Slovenia (mostly from the area of the former common country Yugoslavia) have lost the right to obtain a Slovenian scholarship in 2012. The paper reveals why this provision is problematic in various aspects and has many negative, long-term consequences.

By Uršula Lipovec Čebron

Countless cases from the near and distant past show that the rights have always been denied to the most vulnerable groups of the population. Consequences of these various cutbacks continue to affect inhabitants who already enjoy the least of their rights because of their marginality; most of them are socially and/or economically deprived individuals and immigrants. 

An illustrative example of this assertion is the cancellation of scholarships for students who come to study in Slovenia. Most of the students are from the area of the former common country Yugoslavia and have “traditionally” been a part of the student population in Slovenia. When the former Yugoslavia [1] still existed, many students decided to study in a federal republic other than their own – this praxis remained, yet changed, after Slovene independence. In addition, throughout this period students from neighbouring Croatia [2] represented the majority of the foreign students.

In accordance with the changed geopolitical situation, the social circumstances of the above mentioned (ex-Yugoslavian) students have become more and more insecure due to institutional negligence of their position. Meanwhile, students-exchange within the EU gradually became a more favoured praxis. In contrast with students of short-term exchange, such as in the case of the programmes ERASMUS and CEEPUS, students from the ex-Yugoslav republics usually decided to undertake full-time [3] studies in Slovenia. As a result and due to its longitudinal presence, this population of students has significantly contributed to plurality and multiculturality in the university environment, as well as to long-term international cooperation and the internationalization of Slovene research achievements.

All this – at least in theory – represent an important strategic goal of the Republic of Slovenia and its academic institutions. [4] At the same time, the stimulation of foreign students’ arrival is also pointed out in programme directives of respective Slovene universities, as well as on the national level. [5]

In contrast to the above mentioned strategies, a new legal provision has taken away state scholarships from all students studying in Slovenia who have not held Slovene citizenship since January 1st, 2012. If Slovene citizenship was not a condition for acquiring a state scholarship before then, it has become so due to the new Law for Asserting Rights from Public Funding (ZUJPS). [6] The same law also annulled provisions of the Law for Scholarships in the sense that only citizens of Slovenia and ethnic Slovenians living abroad could apply for any kind of scholarship, while everyone else can do so only on previous condition of reciprocity, or on the basis of already signed international treaties and agreements.

This legal provision is not only in direct contradiction to declarative openness of Slovene universities toward foreign students, but is also discriminatory and violates two articles of the Slovene Constitution: firstly, it opposes the principle of equality, [7] and secondly, it inadmissibly interferes with the right of free choice of profession, which is a protected human right applied to anyone, not just to the citizens of Slovenia. [8]

More than one thousand students, who were studying in Slovenia on account of their approved scholarships, [9] lost the right to obtain a Slovenian scholarship. As a direct consequence, many of them were forced to terminate their studies and return to their countries of origin; moreover, some students, who were planning to study in Slovenia, decided to stay in their domicile countries or continued to seek opportunities in other European countries. [10]

It is quite interesting that not all of the students’ scholarships were cancelled simultaneously: for the smaller group of 280 students, who applied for their scholarships for the first time in 2011, the scholarships were cancelled at the end of the year 2011, whereas for a larger group of 903 students, the scholarships were taken away at the closure of the academic year 2011/2012. The time discrepancy for the scholarship annulment was probably among the reasons that students stayed rather passive [11] after the beginning of 2012, when the first cancellation of scholarships was effected.

Nevertheless, a smaller group of students from other countries organized a series of protest actions that began in December 2011, which were endorsed by both students with Slovene citizenship and professors and assistants at the University in Ljubljana. The participants of these protests demanded an alteration of the discriminatory legal provision and a restitution of scholarships under the slogan, “Knowledge is without citizenship!”

Although the protest actions enjoyed extensive media coverage and were also supported by the Rector of University of Ljubljana, the competent ministry (Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities) failed to seek a pertinent solution to this problem. He argued that the country was in a time of economic recession and therefore state scholarships, as well as the general social policy, are intended for redeeming the aggravated social circumstances of the Slovene citizens (and hence not of the “foreigners”). Statements of several state bureaucrats [12] implied an open nationalist discourse, in which students from other countries were continuously named “foreign” students, in comparison to “our” students; therefore, the former were classified into the category of the “undeserving” because of their lack of “adequate” citizenship, while the latter were perceived as “deserving” and thus entitled to the state scholarship.

To conclude and resume the introductory thesis that the violations of human rights and financial cutbacks within social policy always affect first the immigrants in a country and other vulnerable groups, the experience of the scholarship cancellation in Slovenia evidently shows that the argument of the economic crisis remains an effective folding screen for nationalist tendencies and explicit discriminatory measures. Despite the fact that the scholarship cancellation action clearly contradicted the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia, as well as the state and educational strategies on the highest level, and despite the opposing views of students and professors at universities, the controversial provision of the recently changed law still has not yet been abolished. [13] The Slovenian politicians (and the public that remains silent) clearly perceive the student population as the population with Slovene erythrocytes. What does that remind us of?

[1] For valuable information and suggestions I would like to thank Tadej Kovačič, Dejan Plantak, Goran Lukič, and Romana Zidar.

[2] Such was the case in three-year and four-year graduate programmes in the academic year 2008/2009. There were enrolled 759 Croatian students, and somewhat less from other former Yugoslav republics, such as FYR Macedonia (255 students) etc. (See: Drzna Slovenija: na poti v družbo znanja (publikacija 2/3), Ljubljana: Ministrstvo za visoko šolstvo, znanost in tehnologijo, 2010, p. 209; http://www.arhiv.mvzt.gov.si/fileadmin/mvzt.gov.si/pageuploads/pdf/visoko_solstvo/statistika_visokega_solstva_07072010.pdf).

[3] Students from other EU countries usually do not decide to enrol as regular students; in the academic year 2008/2009, there was only 12 % of regular students from EU countries ((See: Drzna Slovenija: na poti v družbo znanja (publikacija 2/3), Ljubljana: Ministrstvo za visoko šolstvo, znanost in tehnologijo, 2010, p. 209; http://www.arhiv.mvzt.gov.si/fileadmin/mvzt.gov.si/pageuploads/pdf/visoko_solstvo/statistika_visokega_solstva_07072010.pdf).

[4] See: Strategija UL (Strategy of University of Ljubljana) 2006–2009 and Strategija UL (Strategy of University of Ljubljana) 2012–2020 (http://www.uni-lj.si/o_univerzi_v_ljubljani/poslanstvo__vrednote_in_vizija_ul/).

[5] In the Strategy of economic migrations for the time period 2010 – 2020, which was adopted in 2010, the item 2 of the directive No. 4 “Stimulation of mobility and migration of researchers and students” says: “Stimulating of returning of Slovene researchers, university professors, or the reduction of the (potential) ‘brain drain’ /…/, and attracting foreign researchers, university professors, and students.” (http://www.mddsz.gov.si/fileadmin/mddsz.gov.si/pageuploads/dokumenti__pdf/Strategija_ekonomskih_migracij-2010-2020.pdf).

[6] The Article 23 of the Law says: “The state scholarship can be obtained by the citizens of the Republic of Slovenia older than 18 years who meet the other conditions of this law, and whose average income per person in the last fiscal year before the application does not exceed 64 % of average income per person in the respective period.” (‘Zakon o uveljavljanju pravic iz javnih sredstev (ZUPJS).‘ Uradni list RS, no. 62/2010; http://www.uradni-list.si/1/objava.jsp?urlid=201062&stevilka=3387).

[7] The Article 14 of the Constitution of the Republic Slovenia: »In Slovenia, everyone is entitled to the same human rights and fundamental liberties, regardless of nationality, race, gender, language, religion, political or other convictions, material situation, birth, education, social position, or any other personal circumstance. (‘Ustava Republike Slovenije.’ Uradni list RS, no. 33/1991 (http://www.uradni-list.si/1/objava.jsp?urlid=199133&stevilka=1409).

[8] The Article 49 of the Constitution of the Republic Slovenia: “The freedom of labour is assured. Everybody chooses his/her occupation/profession freely. Every work position is accessible to everybody under equal conditions.” (‘Ustava Republike Slovenije.’ Uradni list RS, no. 33/1991 (http://www.uradni-list.si/1/objava.jsp?urlid=199133&stevilka=1409).

[9] In 2010, the monthly scholarship's amount was 179 €. Students were obviously unable to cover all the expenses of living in Slovenia, although it provided, as our informants have noted (personal correspondence with two students from Croatia who were enrolled at the University of Ljubljana), a substantial financial support to their study, along with the income from students’ work and financial support by their family members.

[10] This data is summarized from the internet forum of students of Slovenian universities coming from other countries; it has been active since January 2012.

[11] Dejan Plantak, a student who has been one of the most active protestors, believes that the scholarships were intentionally taken away in two separate “waves” in order to reduce students’ ability of political organizing and effective revolt against this measure of the Slovenian government.

[12] See reports in Slovenian newspapers Delo (http://www.delo.si/novice/slovenija/znanje-nima-drzavljanstva.html) and Dnevnik (http://www.dnevnik.si/clanek/1042502749).

[13] The law on the implementations and alterations of the Law for Asserting Rights from Public Funding (Zakon o spremembah spremembah in dopolnitvah Zakona o uveljavljanju pravic iz javnih sredstev, ZUPJS-C, Uradni list RS, no. 99/2013; http://www.uradni-list.si/1/objava.jsp?urlid=201399&stevilka=3548) has taken effect since December 2013.

Uršula Lipovec Čebron is an assistant professor at the Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology (University of Ljubljana), where she lectures several courses (Anthropology of migration; Contemporary migration, ethnic minorities and citizenship; Medical anthropology) and is engaged in national as well as international projects. Her current research interest include anthropology of migration and transformation of healthcare system in Slovenia.



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