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Austria: Economy and Science – a match made in heaven?

The new-old Social Democrat-Conservative government in Austria decided to abolish the Ministry of Science and Research by attributing the portfolio of science and research to the Ministry of Economy. The Ministry for Science and Research, which was also or even mainly responsible for higher education, will no longer exist as a separate ministry and its previous minister Karl-Heinz Töchterle will be confined to a role as member of the Parliament. Reinhold Mitterlehner from the conservative Austrian’s People Party (ÖVP) will remain in his post as Minister of Economy, losing the portfolio concerning family and youth but gaining responsibility for Austrian research and higher education.

The new-old Austrian government’s official appointment by the Federal President on 16 December, was accompanied by student protests. These, however, were not the only protests. In addition, Styrian Members of the Conservative party abstained from voting for the allocation of the research portfolio to the Ministry of Economy, while all 21 Austrian universities expressed their resentment by hoisting the black flag in front of the university buildings.

Clearly, the government’s decision has been everything but acclaimed by research, university and student representatives, as they fear that the new portfolio contribution lead to the detriment of higher education and research in Austria. Critics argue that the government’s decision risks to reduce research to an exclusively profit orientated appendage of economy. This, in consequence, would entail a commercialisation of research in Austria for upcoming years. At the same time, however, critics have also expressed hope that the new ministerial portfolio allocation might contribute to more attention to the field of research in Austria.

It remains to be seen how policy concerning higher education and research will develop during the next five years and whether its inclusion into the Ministry of Economy had been really the best choice.

Ministry of Science and Research - Press release (in German)

Federal Chancellery - Work programme (in German)

Austrian Press Agency - Austrian Student Representation press release (in German)