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Austrian medical student quotas: EC to refrain from legal action

The European Commission will suspend legal action against Austria over its unlawful cap on foreign university students (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe June 2007). The declaration was made a day before the EU summit in Lisbon on October 18, after Vienna had threatened to raise the quota issue with regard to the new EU treaty. The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said that he wanted to "give Austria more time" to provide information on the effects of the quota suspension on the public health system.

Austria had introduced foreign student quotas for the second time in 2006 as a reaction to the influx of students from neighbouring Germany. The quotas grant 75% of the university places in medicine and dentistry to students with an Austrian school leaving certificate. The Commission challenged Austria at the European Court of Justice for breach of EU law on free movement, which the Court confirmed. The Austrian Federal Minister for Science and Research, however, argued that the quotas were necessary to guarantee a sufficient number of medical doctors for the Austrian health system as the majority German medical students in Austria apparently did not seek employment there.  According to the recent truce, the quotas will remain in place for the next five years. During this time, Austria has to illustrate the impact of free admission on its health care system. The Commission will then decide whether or not to discard the disciplinary procedure.

It remains to be seen what effects the armistice and its outcomes will have not only on student mobility in this particular case, but on freedom of movement within the Union as a whole. Belgium and Denmark face similar problems thus the issue is not isolated.

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