With 22 public universities and 21 technical schools, Austria already has a dense network of universities. There are also private universities and teaching colleges. However, with TU Linz, a “completely new type of university” is expected to shape the landscape. There is talk of a model for the future: unique in content, flexible in terms of structure. For this purpose, TU is to be established as a state university, but is not subject to the University Act.
In the assessment, this legal structure and its offshoots generated severe criticism – more on this on ooe.ORF.at. Some even called for the project to be shelved. But despite concerns – especially from the university sector – politicians want to stick to their plans: TU Linz will start operating as an “independent university institution” outside university law, according to the ÖVP-led Ministry of Science for ORF.
We are still in the process of checking comments. There will be changes that the ministry did not want to disclose due to the ongoing talks with the coalition partner. It is fixed that the basic orientation is not upset. Criticism is taken seriously, the fear that building economic and political influence will open the door cannot be understood. “Fundamental rights” would not be violated in the new TU.
Different laws apply
In an interview with ORF.at, constitutionalist Klaus Poier explains that the University Act creates the legal framework for public universities. “If the decision is such that a university is not subject to the University Act, then of course you want this university to have different regulations than other universities,” says the head of the Center for University Law and University Management at the University of Warsaw. Graz.
The constitutional lawyer does not want to assess the legal form of the new TU. He points out that so far the university law has been successful. On the one hand, it is flexible, thanks to which public HEIs can design “certain freedoms” themselves in terms of their autonomy. On the other hand, according to Poier, the law would regulate in detail the funding of universities, the appointment of professorships and equal treatment programs.
A separate legal framework will be created for the Linz University of Technology. In mid-June, the already revised founding act is to be adopted by the Council of Ministers and sent to the Sejm. Following the decision of the National Council, which is possible before the summer break, the coalition will probably quickly negotiate a second TU bill. This should regulate the organization and day-to-day operation of the university.
It is unclear whether there will be any changes to the content. The planned focus on “digitization and digital transformation” is a “cross-cutting issue” that affects all universities, not just the new TU, the constitutional service noted. The question arises as to how the area of activity of the planned university is “clearly” separated from other universities. The experts also said that the TU Linz profile is not actually a technical university.
The ministry wants to deal with it “internally” and at the same time refers to the planned founding convention. In the initial phase, this commission of nine people will set a course for TU. This includes, for example, an introductory study program.
It was already clear at the end of August 2020 that Upper Austria should be a technical university. Meanwhile, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) presented the first plans for a “digital university” without going into details. Business and politics were happy, universities wanted to wait and see, and the science department was “somewhat surprised” by the announcement, one contributor said.
This may also be because the government’s ÖVP-Green program does not provide for the establishment of a university. In addition, universities in Upper Austria focus on technical issues anyway due to their proximity to industry. In 2014, the state also wanted to expand the renowned Hagenberg software park. Its management should be taken over by a professor of software sciences from the Johannes Kepler University (UJK). However, the requirement to promote women was breached in the appeal process. The professor was withdrawn.
In recent years, the “structural and substantive” perspectives for the UJK have been discussed, but there has been no mention of a new JKU. All the more surprising was Kurz’s announcement in summer 2020. Soon after, the preparatory group dealt with the basics of TU, and the concept group dealt with technical orientation. Two other groups, made up of experts from the ministry, the federal state of Upper Austria and the UJK, dealt with future siting and legal issues.
“The degree of ambiguity and lightness”
“The Ministry of Science organized the preparation group well despite the rush,” says one member. Talks about the new university were open and all stakeholders were involved, “even if parts of Upper Austria were over-represented”. But there was an “egg dance” as the person explains. You didn’t know what exactly you want and where to ask. “The problem is, you always want to have it all, both. But if politics promise excellence, more time should have been invested. “
It was clear from the outset that members from the university community were more skeptical about the idea of TU than people from the ministry and the federal state of Upper Austria. “Of course, attempts to promote science and innovation are to be welcomed. HERE was and will continue to be seen as an opportunity, ”says the scientist who was involved in the process. However, the concept has retained “some degree of vagueness and lightness” to this day. The interviews indicated that more specific content and structures were needed.
According to another person involved, many things were not thought of. “We don’t know what quality criteria are planned or whether there will be an equal opportunities working group under university law,” says the person. Especially when it comes to technology, it is important to legally anchor women’s development and equal treatment issues, ORF.at respondents said.
the issue of equal treatment
The statements often indicated that the act on establishing the PT did not contain any provisions that would ensure the promotion of women at the current level of national universities. There are also no specifics in the explanations of the law. The Working Group for Equal Opportunities at the Jagiellonian University writes that the percentage of female professors is currently only 16.3%, despite the statutory limit of women at 50%. – at the Faculty of Engineering and Life Sciences, this percentage is only 8.6 percent.
ÖVP Science Minister Martin Polaschek said after the statements that establishing a new university was a “difficult topic”) and other technical universities, he said, trying to reassure himself that it would not be disadvantageous for other universities.
Working groups heard that criticism of the TS concept should be taken seriously. Content orientation and legal framework should be discussed. Regarding the latter, constitutional lawyer Poier recalls the Danube University Krems, which was included in the university law only 25 years after its inception in 2019. However, there was politics behind this movement. For example, State Governor Johanna Mikl-Leitner (ÖVP) said at the time: The award was ‘well deserved’ and ‘hard work’.