Education – Uni resentment despite more budget subsidy

The university budget, which is approved for a period of three years, is exhausted. Increasing personnel costs and skyrocketing energy prices put the universities under pressure. A financial injection from Minister of Education Martin Polaschek is seen by many as a drop in the bucket, in Graz the mood on the streets boiled up on Tuesday.

© what / Erwin Scheriau

After several discussions with university representatives, Polaschek, who was rector of the University of Graz a year ago, recognized the need for additional funding. The minister is therefore using reserves from the Ministry of Science and is increasing the budget for the universities in the coming year from the additional 250 million euros already planned to 400 million euros. What it will look like in 2024 is currently “completely open”. “I believe that the universities will get along well with this sum,” said the minister in the Ö1 morning journal. For the 150 million, a separate legal authorization is required within the framework of the Federal Finance Act.

The dissatisfaction with Polaschek that has arisen over the past few weeks has only partially subsided as a result of this financial injection. Sabine Seidler, President of the University Conference, recently called for the budget to be increased to 1.2 billion euros by 2024. Green science spokeswoman Eva Blimlinger also considered 900 million or “maybe even one billion” euros for 2023 and 2024 to be necessary at the weekend. Seidler described the promised 150 million as a “step in the right direction”, but insisted on further help. The universities would be missing another 160 million euros in the next two years. If this is not tightened up, there is a risk of temporary closures, as planned by the Vienna University of Technology for December, and a reduction in staff at the domestic universities.

Protests in Graz

In Graz, displeasure shifted to the streets on Tuesday. Under the motto “Universities on the back burner means the future on the back burner”, more than 3,000 students, staff tests and ÖH representatives from the Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz, the TU Graz, the Medical University Graz, the Kunstuni Graz and the Montanuni Leoben marched through the Styrian state capital. The promised 150 million euros more for the coming year are not enough for most of the demonstrators. “Martin, give out the coal” was the rallying cry of the crowd that marched through downtown Graz.

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During the budget debate in the National Council, SPÖ chairwoman Pamela Rendi-Wagner also took up the topic. Austria has “many excellent scientists in our country – one of them has just been awarded the Nobel Prize. But congratulations alone are not enough,” said the SPÖ leader. Developing research would cost money. Rendi-Wagner therefore demanded that the state go ahead and be the engine to make this possible.

“Unis are waiting for distribution”

The universities are now waiting for the next steps. “In order to really assess what effects this money will have on our situation, the distribution must be clarified. We will be holding talks with the minister in this regard in the coming weeks,” says TU Graz spokeswoman Barbara Gigler, who is also at the demo was present, opposite the “Wiener Zeitung”. The TU is currently using cost-cutting methods, such as a freeze on refilling staff, which will remain in place for the time being. Due to the lack of employees, however, the graduation of students would be delayed. The offices and lecture halls of the TU are currently only heated to 21 degrees, in the coming weeks they want to turn the thermostat further. Gigler assumes that more money will be needed for 2024 than the currently planned 250 million euros: “There is still a gap, so something has to move in 2024.” However, it is not planned that Graz University of Technology, like Vienna University of Technology, will temporarily close its doors for cost reasons.

Even at Polaschek’s former place of work as rector, a tough austerity course is currently being pursued. According to Dagmar Eklaude, spokeswoman for the University of Graz, the country’s second-largest university would be short of almost 40 million euros even after federal support. The distribution will show to what extent this sum will be reduced by the announced subsidy. However, for the University of Graz, which has implemented similar savings measures as the TU, it is clear that more than the 150 million will be needed in 2023. “We have no budget certainty for 2024, which means that we have some uncertainties here in human resources. If nothing happens, we will have to cut jobs,” says Eklaude.

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