WU wants higher budget

The head of one of Austria’s biggest universities has said the current situation at his institution was “dramatic”.

Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU) boss Christoph Badelt explained yesterday (Mon) that the things were becoming increasingly difficult due to a soaring number of students who qualified to sit their final exams. He said the situation regarding bachelor degree courses had been bad for some time. Badelt added that there were similarly negative developments concerning master studies. He explained that significantly more people were registering for lectures than his university could cope with. Badelt said WU’s capacities and budget must be strongly increased. He identified strict restrictions on the number of beginners as an alternative.

The government is at odds about whether universities may charge tuition fees. People’s Party (ÖVP) Science Minister Karlheinz Töchterle said that the state’s 21 public universities should be allowed to do so. He called on the Social Democrats (SPÖ) to give up their blockade against such a reform. Leading Social Democrats warned from creating barriers keeping socially disadvantaged youngsters from seeking higher education. However, SPÖ Salzburg Governor Gabi Burgstaller’s call for a socially balanced system of fees intensified the debate. Burgstaller said a silent majority of SPÖ members were in favour of such a measure. Burgstaller is expected to present her concept for tuition fees at the next SPÖ summit.

The SPÖ’s youth movement and the Association of Socialist Students (VSStÖ) spoke out against Burgstaller’s idea. The VSSTtÖ announced Burgstaller – who is widely considered as a possible successor of SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann – must step down. Burgstaller replied by saying that “some circles in the SPÖ refuse to hold any kind of discussion”. Faymann recently said he was ready to debate the issue. The SPÖ boss described the question of a possible reintroduction of tuition fees as a “matter worth discussing”.

Students were most recently charged for attending lectures and sitting tests between 2001 and 2008 when the ÖVP formed a coalition with the Freedom Party (FPÖ) and the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ). The tuition fees were abolished in a late-night parliament debate a few days before a federal ballot. All parties but the ÖVP approved the draft bill. SPÖ and ÖVP had to accept losses in the following general election. The FPÖ and BZÖ managed to increase their number of seats in parliament.

Austria’s public universities registered 284,000 students in 2010, 22 per cent more than in 2007. Around one in four students were foreigners. The number of university employees rose by 12 per cent to 51,100 between 2007 and 2010. The heads of most of the institutions appealed to the government to increase the science budget to protect Austria from falling further behind in international comparison of educational standards. Austria’s government spent just 0.93 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on the 21 state-funded universities in 2007. Investments rose to 1.05 per cent of GDP in 2010 when four billion Euros were invested.

Austrian National Bank (OeNB) President Claus Raidl suggested that the government should take back the various tax reductions which were passed in the controversial final parliamentary debate ahead of the general vote of 2008. Raidl explained that economists found that the measures meant additional costs of 1.7 billion Euros for the state this year. The ex-Böhler Uddeholm boss said lawmakers should admit that the decision of that night was “nonsense driven by inflation fears and the nearing election.”