Vienna Uni ranks near bottom in global top 100

The debate over whether the government spends enough on higher education is set to intensify after just one Austrian university made the top 100 in a global ranking.Vienna University was listed in the group of institutions placed between 91st and 100th in the 2011 Times Higher Education Ranking. The study provides detailed data for the 50 best universities in the world but lists 50 more higher education institutions in groups of 10.Harvard University – which is situated in Cambridge, Massachusetts – tops the ranking ahead of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Four more US American universities made the top 10. Britain’s University of Cambridge came third. The University of Tokyo in Japan is the only institution not based in the USA or UK among the 10 best of the list having been placed in eighth position.The United States of America are best represented in the survey – which is based on interviews with more than 13,000 academics from 131 countries – with 45 universities in the top 100.No other Austrian university apart from Vienna University made the 2011 Times Higher Education Ranking.The Austrian government coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) has been at odds for months over whether spending on the higher education sector must be increased. The country currently invests around two per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on colleges and universities. The Austrian defence ministry has a higher budget despite the country – which is not considered as a prime target of terrorists – being neutral by constitution.Opinion leaders like Economy Chamber (WKO) chief Christoph Leitl and former SPÖ Finance Minister Hannes Androsch have stressed Austria must reform the education sector but also pour more money into schools and universities to avoid falling behind in international comparisons. Androsch recently revealed plans to hold a referendum on the issue to force the federal parliament to discuss the matter again.Heinz Engl, the designated head of Vienna University, claimed the institution was 150 million Euros short each year due to its low budget. Engl said it was necessary to increase spending on the education sector as the shortfall was also evident in comparison with universities in Germany.”We are underfunded,” he said about the situation at Vienna University. Engl explained Austria’s biggest higher education institution must be able to compete with universities in Switzerland and Germany.A key aspect of the debate are tuition fees which were abolished a few days ahead of the 2008 general election. The SPÖ, the Greens, the Freedom Party (FPÖ) and the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) voted in favour of the act, while the ÖVP opposed the decree.The fees were implemented by a government formed by the FPÖ-ÖVP in 2001. Tens of thousands of students took to the streets at that time to protest against the decision and a string of other laws set up by the right-wing coalition.The Social Democrats have emphasised tuition fees would not be implemented under any circumstances as long as they are in charge, while the ÖVP have said a reintroduction should be considered.Some education experts claim the quality of lectures and facilities at universities will only improve if the fees are reintroduced. They argue that those unable to afford paying them would receive scholarships.Opponents of such ideas say tuition fees would force poor young people out of higher education. They claim measures to restructure universities and less spending on other means in favour of higher investments in the education sector would improve the situation without burdening students with fees.