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Beatrix Karl is Austria’s new education minister. The 42-year-old Professor of Law from Graz University, who still appeared reluctant to accept the office two moths ago, became the successor of Johannes Hahn, who left the post due to his appointment as the EU Commissioner for Regional Policy. Like Hahn, Karl is from the conservative Austrian People’s Party. She had been appointed as her party’s spokesperson for higher education in 2008 only.
In a recent interview, Karl spoke out in favour of the re-introduction of tuition fees. If she will succeed in this respect is doubtful, given the Socialist coalition partner’s strong reluctance. Karl is facing many other challenges, too. The student protests of recent months have calmed down slightly, but might flare up any time again. Austria’s higher education policy of free admission will, together with scarce funds, continue to pose problems. The minister also mentioned the proper implementation of the Bologna reforms as one of the key challenges. Karl will be host to her European fellow ministers for the Bologna ten-year anniversary celebrations this March in Vienna.
As of 23 December 2009 Romania has a new education minister as well - Daniel Petru Funeriu (38 years old) – who seems to have big plans for the modernisation of higher education in the country. The interest of the newly-appointed minister seems to lie primarily in the research sector and she aims, among others, to reform the Ph.D. studies in Romania. This comes as no surprise – Dr. Funeriu comes from the 'research world' himself, and that with an impressive CV. He pursued all his tertiary education in France and completed his Doctoral thesis under the supervision of J.-M. Lehn, winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry (1987). When he was offered the Romanian education portfolio a few months ago, Funeriu was coordinating a Marie Curie excellence team at Technische Universität München, and was acting as Vice-President of the Romanian Presidential Commission for policies in education and research. Funeriu was also a member of the European Parliament.
While hope and expectations run high, the tasks to be undertaken by Funeriu are certainly not among the easiest. Confronted with a requirement to cut public spending at the national level, it seems that the first decisions to be taken by the newly-appointed minister will not be among the most popular ones.