Question 1

Considering the most recent results of international rankings: What are you planning to do to help Austrian universities get to top positions in international rankings? Should that be a priority at all for our country?

SPÖ – Social Democratic Party

Our universities urgently need improved student-faculty ratios and secure long-term funding to be able to catch up with global leaders in the field, as has been outlined in Chancellor Christian Kern's "Plan A" strategy paper. The SPÖ has therefore moved to grant Austrian universities additional funds of € 1.35 billion, a measure that was introduced with the support of most other parties represented in the Austrian parliament, the only exception being the People's Party (ÖVP). This supports academic work and ensures that universities can plan ahead. Students benefit from improved student-faculty ratios and overall better conditions.

Future funding for Austrian universities will have to be based on capacity and student needs. This requires a well-defined strategy which can serve as a genuine vision for the whole tertiary education sector, including traditional universities, universities of applied sciences and teacher training colleges.
At the same time, we need to clearly commit ourselves to the promotion of disciplines that hold promise for the future – such as the STEM fields – to be competitive at the international level.

The SPÖ firmly believes that academic programmes should not be socially selective. Our "Plan A" therefore also includes policies that will increase social diversity at the institutions of higher learning. One of them is to offer more study programmes for people in employment. The raise in student allowances that was recently adopted in parliament is another important policy that promotes equal opportunities for all at Austria's universities.

ÖVP – People's Party

The University of Vienna was only number 165 in the most recent Times World University Rankings, with all other Austrian universities even further down the list. If we want to have excellent academic teaching and universities in the top international league, we need to embark on a completely new course in tertiary education policy: a course towards more student commitment and more predictable resource planning for the universities. Every young person should be able to study at an Austrian institution of higher learning, but fairness dictates that we need proper admission procedures to ensure high-quality teaching for our students. At the same time, we want to further develop the universities of applied sciences. We are planning to implement our higher education funding model, including the generalized introduction of admission regulations, in the next few years. Under the model, funding will be allocated to universities per capita of the student population, ensuring high-quality teaching for all. Controlling student numbers is a must if we expect universities to provide top-level teaching. As we implement this model, we should set ourselves the goal of placing several Austrian universities among the top 100 universities worldwide by 2025.

FPÖ – Freedom Party

While international rankings are a useful indicator, we need to take a differentiated view of them. The global comparability of universities is open to discussion. Having said that, we believe that action definitely needs to be taken to improve the competitive standing of Austria's universities. At the organizational level, for example, Austria's universities should be restructured; in terms of finance, funding should be geared to student numbers, and a large portion of research funding should be competitive funding.

Career models in the teaching field should be adapted along the lines of the model in place at the IST (Institute of Science and Technology Austria). Students' participation in decision-making processes (such as faculty qualification and appointment procedures, including Habilitation, i.e. professorship qualification, and three-candidate shortlists for rectorship positions, as well as organizational and curricular planning processes) should be limited by ensuring a qualified majority of professors in all processes.

Die Grünen – Green Party

Rankings should generally be given a critical reading. In most cases, they disregard the framework conditions under which universities operate, and their underlying assessment criteria are often not disclosed in a transparent manner. Moreover, measuring the performance of Austrian universities against Harvard et al. is the wrong approach. Top rankings are not necessarily difficult to achieve for institutions whose resources are several times higher than those available to Austrian universities. Rather, the considerable achievements of academic institutions in this country should be valued higher given their comparatively lower level of funding.

But what is more relevant than positions in international rankings is the question whether our universities live up to their mission and fulfil their tasks adequately: providing high-level teaching and support for critical thought among students, training and supporting young scientists and artists, producing relevant (basic) research results and ensuring the participation of academia in public debates.

NEOS – The New Austria and Liberal Forum

Education must always be a priority for Austria. We believe that the national tertiary education plan should be based on a clearly defined vision and strategy focusing on Austria's international positioning and its autonomous institutions of higher learning. To achieve that, higher education policies should be guided by the goals laid down in the Bologna Declaration. Institutions of higher learning should be able to take full advantage of the freedoms granted by the Declaration. They should not be coerced into national uniformity.

We also need to further develop the institutions' scope for autonomous action, as well as the freedom of students. Higher education institutions should have the right to accept students as they wish, subject only to anti-discrimination rules, and they should be free to charge tuition fees within the bounds of a legislative framework. Revenue from tuition fees should be managed by the institutions themselves. The government should provide up-front funding for tuition fees in the form of student grants, subject to later repayment when the beneficiary has reached a certain income level.