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Entrance exam dilemma at Austrian universities

‘Sometime they’ll give an entrance exam and nobody will come.’ Well, there were a lucky few who did show up at this year’s entrance examination at Austrian universities and, lo and behold, were automatically admitted to university simply because of the lack of presence of other applicants.

Entrance examinations at Austrian universities have been introduced for the first time for medical school and for psychology in 2006 and 2010 respectively. Given a sharp rise in the number of students in other fields such as media and communication studies, nutrition science and pharmaceutics, heated debates on further admission restrictions have dominated Austrian higher education policy for a long time. This year, entrance exams were introduced for study programmes with a high number of applicants in order to limit the number of admitted students according to the number of available places. Those were, as usual, medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, and psychology and additionally media and communication studies, nutrition science, biology, molecular biology, and pharmaceutics.

However, the situation at entrance exams in some of the offered disciplines became slightly surreal for most of the present applicants. After weeks, maybe even months of swotting and studying, all the preparation suddenly must have seemed in vain – not because of the tough competition but because of the low number of applicants showing up. At Vienna and Salzburg University the number of applicants present for the entrance exam was below the number of places available for the media and communication studies course. Consequently, everyone who had showed up was admitted. In Vienna, for instance, 1 900 students registered for the entrance exam, competing for 1 123 places. In the end, only 763 applicants were present for the examination. Similar situations occurred for pharmaceutics and nutrition science in other Austrian universities. In other study fields such as psychology, the number of applicants present still exceeded the number of available places but was far below the number of registrations.

University authorities are left behind puzzled and furious at the same time. The organisation of entrance exams is a significant cost factor and involves a lot of preparation and resources. Consequently, university authorities have already declared their intention to charge an application fee for registering at one of the entrance exams. The Austrian Union of Students (ÖH) has already voiced concerns that such a step lacks any legal foundation, threatening to bring such a decision to the Constitutional Court. 

University of Vienna press release

Austrian entrance examination internet portal (in German)