Solemn Vigil for the Abolition of Tuition Fees
ESIB’s member union, ÖH – The National Union of Students in Austria, is currently holding a solemn vigil in front of the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) headquarters. ÖH has been protesting there since December 11 in order to put pressure on those who are currently holding negotiations to form the future government and to remind them of one of their main topics during their recent election campagin: The abolition of tuition fees.
During their election campaign this autumn the Social Democratic Party repeatedly promised to abolish the fees once they come to power again. Now that the SPÖ has won the elections and is currently holding negotiation talks with the Austrian Peoples Party (ÖVP), it is unfortunately doubtful whether the SPÖ still remembers the promise they gave to Austria’s 200.000 students. Even worse: There have already been suggestions of a „compromise“,
ÖH has been fighting the tuition fees from the beginning and even before their actual implementation. They were the corner stone of the abolishment of the Austrian free access to higher education.
The tutition fees were introduced in 2000 shortly after the accession to power of the right wing coalition between the Peoples Party and the Freedom Party. Since 2001 Austrian universities and some polytechnics have been charging tuitionfees. The fee is EUR 363,36 per semester for EU and EEA citizens; students from third countries have to pay EUR 726,72. The fees are waived for students form the poorest countries in the world.
Students from low-income families have the possibility to get their fees reimbursed and also to receive additional subsidies. However, this system has been widely criticised as too inflexible, restrictive, and bureaucratic. Students have to take out money on loan and have to wait for several months to get their payments from the State. Also other constraints like income limits are too rigorous to ensure proper student financing. Since 1999 the subsidies have not even been adapted to the inflation rate (i.e. more than 15% in the meantime!)
Tuition fees in Austria led to a decrease of student numbers by 20% immediately after their introduction. Only slowly the number of enrolled students is rising again, the amount of 242.598 students enrolled in 2000 is still not reached. Today 80% of students have to work to finance their studies, debt amongst students is rising, more and more students are likely to slip into poverty.