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Austria: new ministers, new ministries, and a compromise on tuition fees

After months of negotiations, the Austrian Peoples’ Party (ÖVP) and the Social Democrats (SPÖ) finally formed a new government. One of the major obstacles had been the country’s rather symbolical tuition fees, of 727 Euro per year for Austrians and EU-nationals, and double as much for anybody else. Prior to the elections, the Social Democrats promised that should they come to power, the fees, from which apparently the majority of students were exempted, would be abolished. Now, a compromise has been found: students have the choice to pay the fees, or to do a voluntary social service instead. This has triggered a heated debate about which organisations would be eligible to host student volunteers. Claims have been made by as unlikely bodies as the association of Austrian brass bands.

In the future, there will be two ministries in charge of education and research, instead of a single one. The new Ministry of Science and Research (Wissenschaft und Forschung) will be in charge of the higher education sector (and extra-university research institutes). The new minister is Dr. Johannes Hahn, a trained philosopher who started his career in the corporate sector, and who has so far been the ÖVP chairman of Vienna. His counterpart in the field of education will be Dr. Claudia Schmied, who studied business administration at Vienna’s Wirtschaftsuniversität, and who likewise has a past in the business world. Dr. Schmied, a Social Democrat, will be in charge of the new Ministry for Education, Science and Culture (Bildung, Wissenschaft und Kultur). Bundesministerium für Bildung, Wissenschaft und Kultur