Varuh ДЌlovekovih pravic

Discrimination against Zois scholarship holders due to their material standing

Examining the wider issue on the basis of a specific complaint, the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Slovenia (Ombudsman) considered the regulation which excludes the simultaneous receipt of the Zois and state scholarships. The Zois scholarship is intended to promote exceptional achievements and generation of added value in the field of knowledge, research, development and art, while the state scholarship is a supplementary benefit intended for the coverage of costs incurred during education. The recipients of state scholarships may also receive a performance bonus, which is an additional incentive to attain high scores in education or reveal above-average potential. It amounts to between EUR 7.40 and EUR 40.96, while the basic Zois scholarship for secondary school students amounts to EUR 120.00 and EUR 140.00 for university students.

While observing the purposes of both scholarships described above, the Ombudsman argued that the regulation according to which the Zois and state scholarships are mutually exclusive represents a violation of paragraph one of Article 14 of the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia, which stipulates that everyone in Slovenia is guaranteed equal human rights and fundamental freedoms irrespective of, inter alia, material standing. The Protection Against Discrimination Act (ZVarD), which determines in more detail the relevant constitutional content, prohibits in Article 4 any undue actual or legal unequal treatment, differentiation, exclusion, limitation or failure to act due to personal circumstances (among which is also material standing pursuant to Article 1 of the same Act), the result or consequence of which is hindrance, reduction or nullification of equal recognition, enjoyment or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms, other rights, legal interests and benefits. Paragraph two of Article 6 of the ZvarD stipulates that indirect discrimination occurs when a person or a group of people in certain personal circumstances is, was or could be in a less favourable position than other people due to an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice, unless this provision, criterion or practice is objectively based on a legitimate objective and the means of attaining this objective are appropriate and necessary.

In connection with the specific regulation, the Ombudsman assumed the position that the apparently neutral circumstance that a secondary school or a university student from a socially disadvantaged background must choose between the Zois or the state scholarship, puts the student in a situation in which their ability to enjoy the benefits of the Zois scholarship is reduced in comparison to their peers from more wealthy backgrounds. The Zois scholarship, as the only scholarship which a secondary school or a university student from a socially disadvantaged background is entitled to if they choose it, specifically attains the nature of a social benefit intended to cover the costs incurred to such a student during education and not when obtaining exceptional/additional achievements (such as, for example, participation in various extracurricular competitions, etc.). On the other hand, secondary school and university students from wealthy families may fully utilise the Zois scholarship for obtaining exceptional achievements because their parents or guardians cover the costs of their education. The performance bonus received in addition to the state scholarship should, according to the Ombudsman, not be equated with the Zois scholarship because the highest amount of the relevant bonus is almost three times lower than the (basic) Zois scholarship for secondary school students.

The Ombudsman also drew the attention of the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities (MDDSZ) to the statements of the expert and interested public that the material standing of the family and education of parents is supposed to predict what education the children will attain,[1] and the final report within the project "Scholarship awarding systems for special achievements – international comparison and suggestions for improvements for Slovenia,"[2] whose authors recommended that a legal amendment should permit a simultaneous receipt of the Zois and state scholarships. We expressed our concern that the existing regulation deepens the social stratification and the expectation that the Ministry will reconsider the Ombudsman’s position and propose suitable amendments to the applicable legislation in compliance with its competence. 9.5-44/2021

[1] Boštele, M. (22 November 2018). Za revnejše poklic, za bogatejše študij. (Vocation for the poorer, study for the richer.) Delo. Available at:

[2] International School for Social and Business Studies. (MFDPŠ) RE-FORMA (2021). Final report: Scholarship awarding systems for special achievements international comparison and suggestions for improvements for Slovenia. Available at: