Vienna University to charge students again

Legal wrangles between students and Vienna University are possible as Austria’s biggest higher education institution decided to reintroduce tuition fees.

The university’s senate opted for a comeback of the charges for the upcoming winter semester. The panel debated the issue yesterday (Thurs) following an appeal by the university’s board. The decision means that students coming from countries which are not part of the European Union (EU) must pay 363 Euros per semester from autumn. Everyone who is two semesters or more behind the regular time for finishing courses will be affected in the same way, Vienna University officials explained. It remains unclear whether people who work to finance their studies will have to cough up the fee too.

Vienna University head Heinz Engl told radio station Ö1 this morning clarifying the legal background of demanding tuition fees in Austria would be desirable. He said the complex political situation might make trials unavoidable. Engl added that the Constitutional Court (VfGH) could once more be forced to look into the matter as the government keeps feuding about whether tuition fees are a socially acceptable measure.

Vienna University senate members revealed that a group of students tried to open the door to their meeting room with force yesterday. The senate told broadcaster ORF that the students used a ladder in their failed attempt to enter the room. Members of the committee managed to keep them from getting in before the university’s security staff and police ended the encounter – which comes just days after dozens of students occupied the university’s Audimax auditorium for hours.

All of the parliament’s factions but the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) backed a draft bill to abolish tuition fees in 2008. The parliamentary debate took place shortly before a general election. The parties agreed that people from outside the EU should have to pay to sit courses at Austria’s 21 public universities.

The VfGH annulled the law due to formulation errors and asked the government coalition of Werner Faymann’s Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the ÖVP of Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger to correct them. The coalition partners failed to do so until the deadline of the VfGH on 1 March 2012. This means that none of the public university’s students must pay fees – in contrast to learners at private universities and Fachhochschule (FH) colleges.

The ÖVP wants to reintroduce tuition fees at all state-funded universities. Most of the SPÖ’s leading representatives oppose such plans. ÖVP Science Minister Töchterle said he created a concept for fees which would ensure that no student must fork out more than 500 Euros per semester.

Vienna University was the only Austrian university which made it into the Times Higher Education Ranking 2011. No Austrian university made it into the survey’s 2012 edition. The ranking is based on the verdicts of more than 17,000 leading academics from 149 countries. Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, topped the ranking, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in second place. The top 10 features another five US American institutions. The Times Higher Education Ranking offers detailed information on the world’s 50 best universities and lists 50 more higher education institutions in groups of 10. Vienna University was part of the group of universities placed between 91st and 100th in last year’s edition of the survey.