As Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis called for the launch of a cross-party debate aimed at overhauling the higher education system yesterday, thousands of students returned to the streets of the capital to voice their opposition to planned reforms. In his speech before Parliament, Karamanlis called on all political parties and the academic community to back an initiative aimed at reforming the senior high school system and creating a new improved system for university entrance. «We want these changes to come about through consensus, by joining forces for something that concerns us and our children,» said Karamanlis. «I am not here to herald a new system or a New Democracy reform but to make a genuine appeal for progress on a common path that goes beyond the duration of any one government,» the premier added. Karamanlis proposed the creation of a cross-party commitee, comprising a representative from every party, and called for the debate to begin in Parliament in four months’ time. On university immunity, he said it was being «blatantly violated» and called for «open schools and open universities.» Newly appointed Education Minister Aris Spiliotopoulos reiterated previous calls for a debate «from scratch, without predetermined decisions.» But many students and academics who participated in yesterday’s rally were unmoved by these appeals, saying they refused to be pulled into «a preset dialogue.» The president of the State Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OLME), Costas Maniatis, said he did not expect much to come of the government’s pledges. «The government is talking about tabula rasa (clean slate) because it does not want an in-depth discussion,» Maniatis said. «We are not prepared to start from scratch, we have struggled to make our demands known, but we need the government to respond to these, otherwise we will not have dialogue but a well-staged show,» he added. Main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou struck a similar note, saying that the «counter cannot be reset,» and claiming that «ND wants dialogue from scratch in order to avoid assuming its responsibilities.» He said PASOK would increase public spending on education.