What is a student worth to you? How do you plan to achieve the 2%-of-GDP goal for the tertiary education sector? Should the record number of students at Austrian universities – 300,000 at present – be allowed to rise further, or where to you see a ceiling?
SPÖ – Social Democratic Party
We want to get out of the economics of shortage and subsistence science. There is one question we need to answer: How can Austria's best minds get the best universities? We are one of the wealthiest nations worldwide, and we must be among the most progressive nations in terms of science and research. However, international statistics show, for example, that the number of graduates at bachelor level in Austria is significantly below OECD average. Employees in the digital age need to bring more and more skills and qualifications to the workplace. If Austria wants to maintain its leading position, we have to further increase student and university graduate numbers.
But growing student numbers while at the same time improving the quality of our institutions of higher learning will obviously require a significant expansion of budgets, as well as a general structural reform of tertiary education. The provision of € 1.35 billion of additional funding has been an important first step. The next federal budget framework plan has to include a clearly defined path towards the 2%-of-GDP goal.
It is evident that Austria's universities have reached their capacity limits, given the current resources available to them. We therefore need to develop and pursue a broad strategy for the entire tertiary education field that covers all publicly funded institutions of higher learning. (see also the statement under question 1) In this context, we plan to expand the field of universities of applied sciences and teacher training colleges.
ÖVP – People's Party
Within the bounds of university autonomy, we have to take the next step by rolling out admission rules and procedures throughout the country, placing the selection of students in the hands of the institutions – an approach taken in a majority of countries worldwide. International examples range from models that focus on candidates' previous educational achievements, i.e. grades attained in examinations at the end of secondary education, to standardized tests probing candidates' potential in a given field. Internationally successful universities also look at other factors, such as the motivation behind the choice of a given study programme. We will have to discuss whether a secondary school-leaving certificate or equivalent qualification should remain the only precondition to gain access to university study programmes, and whether there is a need to test for professional potential and also consider candidates' motivation in admission procedures.
FPÖ – Freedom Party
The Freedom Party is committed to free access to higher education as an indispensable component of the Austrian education system. The current regime of access restrictions primarily excludes Austrian candidates from academic study programmes. However, we believe that the obsessive pursuit of academization quotas serves no purpose. Everybody should get an education according to their interests and abilities. Vocational training is not per se inferior to academic studies.
Adequate funding for the universities requires a budget increase. For the upcoming budget period, this has already been adopted by the Austrian parliament in a tripartite resolution that was supported by SPÖ, FPÖ and the Green Party (and opposed by the ÖVP under its chairman Mr. Kurz).
A major contributing factor to the record number of more than 300,000 students in Austria today is the strong influx of foreign students from the EU and from third countries. This is obviously overstraining the budget for science and research.
The Freedom Party therefore advocates entering into negotiations with Brussels with a view to introducing compensation payments for the overhang of students from other EU countries. We further call for cost-covering tuition fees to be paid by students from third countries.
Die Grünen – Green Party
We landed a big coup last June with a Green Party motion on university funding in parliament. It won a majority, and a resolution was passed securing additional funds of EUR 1.35 billion for the next university budget period – a major step towards the 2%-of-GDP goal, although others will have to follow.
About 16% of Austrians are university graduates, the second-lowest proportion among OECD countries, and the number of first-year students is also below OECD average. So it is not the supposedly excessive number of students which poses a problem; instead, what we need to tackle is the high number of drop-outs. But again, this warrants closer scrutiny: a research study by the Vienna Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS) found that about half the recorded number of drop-outs do not leave university, but change to another study programme. The second most important reason why students leave study programmes is that they move on into paid employment.
Instead of focusing on how to cut student numbers, we should work to find solutions that will enable as many as possible to complete their study programmes. In this context, the following points are relevant:
- Choice of study programme: Many of those counted as drop-outs do not actually leave university. Double and multiple enrolment could be avoided by introducing a joint introductory phase to give new entrants a genuine opportunity for orientation and preparation.
- Scholarships: Two thirds of students in Austria work in paid employment, on average 20 hours per week, alongside their academic studies. This slows down their academic progress, and as they get older, jobs become a more dominant factor in their lives. Scholarships are needed to allow students to focus on their academic activities.
NEOS – The New Austria and Liberal Forum
We should of course continue to pursue the 2% target. The much more interesting point, however, is how much students actually benefit per capita from the invested funds. In this respect, we are lagging far behind countries like Switzerland or Sweden. We have not yet reached a ceiling in terms of student numbers, but too many of those enrolled are not pursuing their studies actively (as evidenced by the number of exams taken). By combining rules that restrict university admission with capacity-based per capita funding, we should be able to reduce the number of inactive students significantly, while at the same time improving general conditions at the universities.