Universities and colleges can also adopt COVID-19 measures in the coming winter semester if necessary
Vienna (PK) – The Science Committee today voted by a majority in favor of creating a new technical university in Linz. A majority of ÖVP, FPÖ and the Greens was found in favor of the founding law for the establishment of the “Institute of Digital Sciences Austria”.
According to the Minister of Science, Martin Polaschek, the decision will create the prerequisites for the start of studies in the 2023/24 academic year. In a second step, a further legal regulation will then define the final legal framework for the organization and ongoing operation, Polaschek announced.
Another legislative resolution of relevance to the higher education area was passed by a majority with the votes of the ÖVP, SPÖ and Greens. The legislation, introduced by the ÖVP and the Greens, extends the possibility for universities to impose measures against the spread of COVID-19, if necessary, until the end of the 2022/23 winter semester.
A number of opposition motions were postponed or rejected. The SPÖ was not successful with its demand that working students be granted a tuition fee discount again and with its demand for federal support for student dormitories. The SPÖ’s motion for the Minister of Science to submit regular reports on the development of universities of applied sciences, private universities and universities of teacher education was postponed.
With two motions for resolutions, the FPÖ reiterated its demands for sufficient funding of the universities of applied sciences and the rapid submission of a UAS development plan. These two motions were postponed with the votes of the ÖVP and the Greens. An FPÖ motion on the further development of university funding was rejected.
The NEOS demand for an expansion of psychological student counseling was also put on hold.
New university institution in Linz to focus on digitization
According to Science Minister Martin Polaschek, the Institute of Digital Sciences Austria (IDSA) in Linz will break new ground in research, teaching and practical application. According to the government bill, this is intended to provide a major impetus for actively shaping the digital transformation in Austria with lasting success and to secure Austria’s digital competitiveness.
The founding law now on the table (1524 d.B.) ensures that the new university will be able to commence academic operations at the beginning of the 2023/24 academic year. The government bill therefore contains the necessary legal foundations for the founding process and the new university’s ability to act, Polaschek explained. In a first step, therefore, the provisions on legal form, founding bodies, the establishment of a service limited liability company, questions of teaching, studying and personnel issues had been worked out. Polschek emphasized that it was important to him that the rights and claims of students and teachers were fully protected. To this end, he added, numerous points from the comments received during the review process had been incorporated.
According to the minister, a founding convention will prepare the future organizational and study structures. Its most important task will be to appoint a founding president. Only in a second step is it planned to create the final legal framework for the organization and ongoing operations with another federal law, Science Minister Polaschek explained in his introductory statement. The new university’s academic operations are to begin in the 2023/2024 academic year, initially with a PhD doctoral program, and gradually expand to offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral studies as well as continuing education in the field of digital transformation in full operation.
As far as funding is concerned, €18.4 million has been earmarked for the IDSA for the start-up phase in 2022 and 2023, to be covered entirely by the Ministry of Science’s ministerial reserve. From the academic year 2023/24, the financing of the new university will no longer be borne by the federal government alone, but jointly with the province of Upper Austria. According to the Minister of Science, a 15a agreement to this effect is already being negotiated with the province of Upper Austria.
Maria Theresia Niss (ÖVP) welcomed the law as an important step towards the establishment of a university institution, from which she also expects a contribution to solving the shortage of specialists. The institute would break new ground in cooperation and promote mutual exchange between business and science.
Gerhard Deimek (FPÖ) also expressed his satisfaction with the decision. He did not see the new institution as a major contribution to solving the shortage of skilled workers, he said. However, the establishment of an innovative university in Linz makes sense, since Upper Austria has a well-developed economy and industry.
Eva Blimlinger (Greens) said her parliamentary group agreed with the establishment, but she did not hide the fact that the decision was made with ambivalent feelings. She herself does not consider the new institution to be absolutely necessary; the desired goals could also have been achieved in cooperation with already existing universities and colleges. However, she hoped that the new institution would develop just as positively as IST Austria, which had also been the subject of initial criticism but was now a clear success story.
The SPÖ deputies Andrea Kuntzl and Eva Maria Holzleitner still saw too many open questions to be able to approve the law. There was still a lack of a needs analysis, a location concept and clear statements about the content. The SPÖ deputies were particularly critical of the statements on the financing of the new facility. Kuntzl criticized that the money is to be provided from the ministerial reserve. These are funds to which the other universities are entitled. Kuntzl made a motion for adjournment in order to still be able to talk about the open questions.
The adjournment motion received support from the NEOS. Martina Künsberg Sarre (NEOS) said that her group was of course in favor of innovation. In its present form, however, the law was “an imposition on Parliament”. A comparison with IST Austria showed that the founding process had been much more transparent, especially in the area of funding.
On the question of financing, Science Minister Polaschek stated that additional budget funds had been booked to the ministerial reserve for the founding phase of the institute. Therefore, there could be no question that the expenses for the IDSA would be at the expense of the other universities and colleges. The comparison with IST Austria was not useful, as the intention was to create a new type of university.
Universities should be able to extend COVID-19 measures if necessary
At present, it is not possible to predict what the COVID-19 situation will be in the fall. The legal basis for universities and colleges to be able to set preventive measures if necessary should therefore be extended for the winter semester 2022/23, argue ÖVP and Greens MPs in an initiative motion (2524/A) to extend the provisions of the 2nd COVID-19 Higher Education Act until February 28, 2023.
Rudolf Taschner (ÖVP) as well as Elisabeth Götze and Eva Blimlinger (both Greens) stressed in the Science Committee that the previous regulation had proven its worth. Within the framework of their autonomy, it gives universities and colleges the opportunity to implement COVID-19 prevention measures tailored precisely to their teaching operations, Blimlinger emphasized. MP Andrea Kuntzl (SPÖ) said that in view of the current summer wave, her group believes it makes sense to be cautious and provide a legal basis for prevention concepts at universities.
The FPÖ and NEOS expressed critical views. Gerhard Deimek and Martin Graf (both FPÖ) said it was incomprehensible why regulations were being extended in the university sector that had already been repealed in other areas. Gerald Loacker (NEOS) saw it as fundamentally the wrong approach to pass laws restricting freedom “in advance”. Such laws should only be passed if there is an actual need for them, he argued.
SPÖ stands up for students
SPÖ science spokeswoman Andrea Kuntzl (2552/A) called for a repair of the regulation on the waiver of tuition fees for working students, which had been overturned by the Constitutional Court. During the discussion, the MP described that the law repair had not been carried out within the deadline mentioned by the Constitutional Court. The demand was supported by the FPÖ and the NEOS. Graf (FPÖ) could not understand why this had not been done. The ÖVP professed to support students, but wanted to start with study grants and subsidies. The motion was only supported by the opposition factions and thus did not find a majority.
SPÖ deputy Katharina Kucharowits made a new attempt to promote the creation of housing for students (2550/A(E)). Julia Herr (SPÖ) also drew attention to the wave of inflation and spoke out in favor of making housing affordable. Marchetti countered that housing subsidies were the responsibility of the provinces. In addition to the votes of the SPÖ, the motion received only the support of the FPÖ and was thus rejected.
Once again, a motion for a resolution by SPÖ science spokeswoman Andrea Kuntzl was postponed after regular reports on the development of universities of applied sciences, private universities and teacher training colleges (330/A(E)). According to Blimlinger (Greens), the universities are already “suffocating” from extensive reporting. For Gertraud Salzmann (ÖVP), too, the education sector is already heavily covered with reporting obligations.
FPÖ motions for sustainable financing in the higher education sector
FPÖ science spokesman Martin Graf called for the further development of university financing with a motion for a resolution (2643/A(E)). First and foremost, he said, there must be genuine funding for university places. Taschner (ÖVP) and Kuntzl (SPÖ) could not understand the motion, as the financing was successfully organized. The motion received only the votes of FPÖ and NEOS and was thus rejected.
The increase in the funding rates that apply to universities of applied sciences in 2021 as part of the management of study places is not sufficient, criticized the FPÖ. It therefore demands in a motion that the financing of the universities of applied sciences be secured permanently and in a way that can be planned in the long term (2460/A(E)). The UAS need a concept, emphasized Gerhard Deimek (FPÖ). From the point of view of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), the financing of the universities of applied sciences was increased by 10% at the beginning of the year, and the motion was therefore postponed.
Also postponed was the FPÖ’s demand for the presentation of a new FH development and financing plan (FH-EF-Plan) for the academic years from 2023/24 (2461/A(E)).
NEOS demand the expansion of psychological student counseling
Once again dealt with in committee and again postponed was a motion by the NEOS, in which they point out that students are suffering massively from the COVID-19 pandemic. The NEOS want to expand psychological student counseling from its current six locations to all federal states (1505/A(E)). The motion was supported by the SPÖ. On the part of the governing parties, Blimlinger (Greens) and Bettina Rausch (ÖVP) countered that staff capacities had already been expanded.
Kuntzl (SPÖ) also warned of unaffordable heating costs in the fall. He said there was a rumor that the universities would therefore switch to distance learning again in the fall. Science Minister Polaschek was aware of the problem, but could rule out Distance Learning as a result. “These can only be rumors,” he stressed. He added that inflation was currently an important issue, for which there was an intensive exchange between universities, UASs and the Ministry of Science. Talks have also been started with the Ministry of Finance, he said. (Conclusion Science Committee) sox/gla
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