No Turkish private school for Tyrol

A Tyrolean town has rejected a group of Turkish businesspeople’s appeal to run a school.

A commission formed by Rum Town Hall officials announced yesterday (Tues) it unanimously agreed to veto the endeavour. Turkish investors and retail trade entrepreneurs asked decision-makers whether they could create and manage a private school. The group aimed at setting up an association to finance the project which would have got underway in 2013. However, local political leaders dismissed their bid.

Provincial education authorities welcomed the decision, claiming the foundation of a private school managed by Turks would have been a “wrong approach.” The right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) agreed, arguing that this would not have been a “good contribution to successful integration.” Both the FPÖ and the Tyrolean People’s Party (ÖVP) told Die Presse newspaper that the foundation of a private Turkish secondary modern school – or Gymnasium as the type of school is called in German – could have created “parallel societies.”

The provincial branch of the Social Democrats (SPÖ) – who cooperate with the ÖVP on federal political level – were not in favour of the project either. SPÖ official Elisabeth Blanik said speaking to Die Presse that efforts to ensure public schools meet everybody’s demands were needed. The Tyrolean Green Party expressed understanding for the “legitimate” point of view of the town hall of Rum, a small town situated near provincial capital Innsbruck.

Die Presse reports today it is unclear whether the association of Turkish businesspeople behind the project has intentions to appeal the decision. A real estate entrepreneur looking for a property for them to accommodate the planned school in is allegedly not surprised by local politicians’ veto because of “hostile” media coverage as decision day approached.

The Turkish investors wanted Turkish children, kids with a migratory background and Austrian pupils to be taught Turkish either as their mother tongue or as a foreign language. Their project – which would have followed the example of educational institutions in Vienna – came in the middle of heated debate over if and how the Austrian school system has to be reformed.

Businesspeople and experts have deplored the poor level of education and general knowledge of many young people when they leave school while the SPÖ-ÖVP administration is at odds over a reintroduction of tuition fees at universities. The fees were abolished three years ago. Chancellor Werner Faymann’s SPÖ opposes a comeback while the conservative ÖVP is in favour of reintroducing them to help improve the situation at higher education institutions many students and lecturers label as “chaotic.”

SPÖ Education Minister Claudia Schmied was forced to put plans to raise the reputation of Turkish as a foreign language to be learned at schools on hold only recently. Schmied aimed at offering children to graduate in the subject in the final year of their school time. Pupils can currently choose between English, French, Italian, Spanish and several other languages. The education minister decided not to take further steps after making her idea public when she realised that the ÖVP – which is headed by Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger – strictly opposes it. The federal Green Party backed Schmied’s proposal.

The issue about Turkish as a final exam school subject and news that Rum will not get a private secondary modern school financed by Turkish entrepreneurs comes shortly after new ÖVP State Secretary for Integration, Sebastian Kurz, hit out at FPÖ chairman Heinz-Christian Strache.

Asked by the Kurier newspaper whether he was the ÖVP’s “anti-Strache,” Kurz – who was sworn in last April – said: “I don’t define myself with what I am against.”

Kurz explained: “Many people can currently identify with Strache. Nevertheless, I have no interest in parroting his words. (…) It would be an easy thing to do to say a few slogans to become more popular and garner extra votes – but this is not my approach.”

Spindelegger wants Kurz to come up with fresh suggestions about integration. The discussion among residents of Austria, politicians and sociologists about whether most immigrants are integrated well has intensified in the past few years. Especially the role and standing of Muslims in Austria is under scrutiny as the FPÖ managed to increase their share in a string of various elections ranging from general ballots to provincial votes and city parliament elections with their anti-immigration campaign.

Strache emphasised he had nothing against anyone coming to the country who integrated well. However, his party is infamous for linking crime statistics with the influx of foreigners in a disputed way. FPÖ General Secretary Harald Vilimsky called for a stop of integration from Muslim countries last year.

Kurz suggested the creation of a Forum Islam to debate the key topics there. He also called for a labour market task force helping immigrants to find a job in Austria. The number of immigrants out of work has always been higher than Austrians’ unemployment rate. Kurz also said that the education and training of imams could be discussed in a possible Forum Islam. The state secretary previously made clear imams should preach in German only in Austria.

Kurz is understood of being in favour of keeping a project running in which well-known Austrians with a migratory background visit schools to talk about their careers and daily life in Austria. Athletes, businesspeople and politicians participated in the project which has been welcomed by most education officials.