Resolution on the Protection of Access to Higher Education in Austria

31. Mai 2024

Resolution on the Protection of Access to Higher Education in Austria

Anlässlich der aktuellen UG-Novelle hat die ÖH folgende Resolution in der European Students Union eingebracht. Diese wurde infolgedessen auch beschlossen.



The amendment to the higher education law in Austria (Universitätsgesetz 2002, Hochschulgesetz 2005): In January of 2024 amendments of the Austrian higher education law were proposed and has since passed in the Austrian parliament. The law, which was supposed to only entail small changes, was instead comprised of a series of deteriorations of the state of higher education in Austria. Amendments to these laws to the detriment of those who should be profiting from them – namely students – have become a historic occurrence in Austrian higher education policy: Starting with the amendments in 2011 we have faced a long line of legal changes, all with negative impacts on students. The most notable changes since then have been made in 2021 resulting in nation-wide student protests to the planned changes. This year’s amendment also does not fail to keep up with this  tradition of lawful debasement of students’ rights. Out of all changes, four are most notable in this regard. 


The legal implementation of (more) barriers to the access to higher education in all Master and PhD programmes: Up until now, access to Master and PhD programmes could only be restricted when those programmes were held in a foreign language (i.e. for non German-speaking programmes). This rule, although heavily limited in the programmes it applied to, already gave way for incredible social selection and reduced regular cohorts to small exclusive groups of students. With this amendment to the higher education law, new barriers to the access of higher education (specifically in the form of entrance examinations) will be possible for all Master and PhD programmes. What we can now expect is an immense surge in barriers to access to Master and PhD programmes and the creation of artificially small cohorts in the whole country starting from the next academic year (2025/2026), which will have intolerable effects on the social selection and social mobility within education. Additionally the number of applications per student can now be limited by the higher education institution, which in combination with the creation of barriers to the access to study programmes, can lead to the complete loss of a secured study spot. 


The implementation of arbitrary assessments of the value of students of third countries applying for access to higher education in Austria: The amendment also holds threats for foreign students. Paragraph 60 of the amendment suggests the implementation of arbitrary assessments of the documents for enrollment of students applying for third countries on their “value”. This assessment will be decided on by the rectorate, without need to give proper reason or rules on what “valuable” would look like in this context. The result: The already long and strenuous acceptance processes can be prolonged for an unforeseeable time. In this way, the rectorates are arbitrarily delaying the start of studies for third-country students and exposing them to further bureaucratic hurdles. Due to prejudices and pigeonholing, students from individual countries are placed under general suspicion and racist structures are manifested in law.


The progressing weakening of the standing of the senate – the highest higher education body with student representation: The senate as the highest democratic body with student representation holds an important position in higher education institutions in Austria and has as such often been attacked in recent history. From its original thirds parity (⅓ students, ⅓ academic staff, ⅓ professors) to the current 25 percent student representation, the senate and the student influence in the senate has been reduced more and more in the last years, as is the case in this amendment as well. According to the UG amendment, the senate must submit a three-person proposal for the election of the rector even if there are not enough suitable candidates. The new rules for the election of the rector encroach on the Senate’s authority, as their legal leeway is being reduced . This constraint of the Senate is a clear encroachment on the competence of this body and is therefore unacceptable.  In the long term, these progressing changes could turn the only student governing body into a toothless advisory body with no powers of its own.


Rushed changes to teaching programmes in order to fix a longstanding issue of a nation-wide teacher shortage without protection of students: Amendments have also been made to fix the longstanding (and largely foreseeable) issue of country-wide teacher shortages. With a shortening of the teaching programme, HEIs are now met with the challenge to quickly adjust their curricula to adhere to the law, without regulated changeover procedures. We therefore call for generous changeover regulations with just ECTS distribution and no loss of quality of the programmes through the shortening. Furthermore, since a Master degree is compulsory for teachers in Austria, the beforehand discussed new barriers to education could lead to a paradox of a legal necessity for a degree but no study spaces to obtain said degree. This would lead to a harmful restriction of life-planning for teaching students, which must urgently be avoided.

In line with ÖH’s decision to pass criticism of this amendment to the Austrian higher education law and warn about its detrimental implications for students, the European Students’ Union renounces this amendment and calls for Austrian politics to reconsider its course in higher education policy. This development is not a new one but one with historic footing and a strong acceptance within the Austrian political landscape. This alone is a threat to the openness and access to higher education in Austria.

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