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Austria is one of the countries with the highest share of foreign students in Europe. But they originate mainly from the neighbouring countries – above all Germany. The flow from Germany has now swelled to a flood and it causes serious problems.
Austria practices a free admission approach to its universities and colleges – and it abolished its largely symbolic tuition fees a few years ago. Only in medicine has the country introduced a numerus clausus and a quota for foreign students, a measure not in compliance with the rules for free movement in the European Union, which the European Commission only grudgingly accepted. In psychology, a similar approach was agreed, but has not entered into force yet. The result of all of this is a substantial inflow of Germans into the small Austrian higher education system. Together with a general rise in enrolment – based on preliminary figures of 20 percent, compared to autumn 2008 – this has led to difficult situations, especially in Austrian universities close to the border. Austrian admissions law foresees the restriction of access in cases of ‘emergency’, but the procedure is cumbersome and requires governmental approval. The rector of Innsbruck University, one of the hardest hit, has now brought into play the possibility of transfer compensation payments from Germany to Austria. A model for this exists between the Nordic countries, whose payments into the budget of the Nordic Council of Ministers (‘the Nordic EU’) are lowered or increased based on the balance of outgoing and incoming students.
On a related note, Austria has decided to nominate the Science and Research Minister Johannes Hahn as the new Austrian Commissioner for the next European Union's executive.