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The Austrian National Council (Nationalrat) decided the end of tuition fees at Austrian universities on 27 September, only a few days before the elections to the new Council. This move was part of the SPÖ’s five-point relief plan (one of the governing parties), which aimed at increasing pension benefits, nursing allowances and assistance for families.
What sounds like a noble endeavour in the last hours of office needs to be seen in the light of the political landscape in Austria. For too long have the two governing parties (SPÖ and ÖVP) been paralysed by their inner differences. The decision to abolish tuition fees may have been received with enthusiasm amongst thousands of students, but Austrian rectors and other stakeholders had explicitly been very critical about this populist and seemingly desperate measure. And the election results partly prove them right. Both parties have suffered a tremendous loss, none of them surpassing 30 percent. What is even more worrisome: The two right-winged parties (FPÖ and BZÖ) have been able to collect 18 and 11 percent of the votes respectively.
Quo vadis, Austria? A simple question with many possible answers. In practical terms, however, it is likely that the current alliance of SPÖ and ÖVP will give it another shot. Such a coalition would be most likely to be led by the SPÖ, making it improbable that fees would be reintroduced.