- In the sense of quality development and the development of fair competitive conditions, state universities and universities of applied sciences should establish their own legal entities for their fee-based study programmes and operate them under the same conditions as private universities and private colleges at full cost. The prohibition of federal funding applicable to private universities and private colleges (§ 6 PrivHG) should in particular also apply to all fee-based study programmes of Danube University Krems (University of Continuing Education Krems). This would also be in the interest of consumer protection.An area of increasing tension arises when state-funded universities offer fee-based study programmes beyond the possibilities regulated in § 91 (1-6) UG 2002 and thus enter into a direct competitive relationship with private universities. Here, the boundary between the state’s educational mandate, federal funding and private-sector involvement of federally funded university employees often becomes blurred. The same applies to the fee-based continuing education programmes offered by universities of applied sciences and the Danube University Krems (University for Continuing Education Krems). The Danube University Krems (University for Continuing Education Krems) should be highlighted as an Austrian curiosity, for which a smorgasbord of different legal provisions is applied.
- The strict quality requirements for private universities and private higher education institutions shall also apply to educational programmes pursuant to section 27a HS-QSG. In particular, proof of scientific research shall be provided within the framework of the study programmes and the recognition and crediting policy of educational offerings pursuant to section 27a HS-QSG shall be subject to the quality requirements of top international universities. A study operation of educational institutions pursuant to § 27b HS-QSG shall be prohibited. Every educational institution from third countries shall have the opportunity to be accredited as a private university or private higher education institution.
- The quality guidelines of all higher education sectors should be further developed. There is potential for improvement primarily in the areas of supervision ratios, sectoral expectations of the teaching load of higher education staff and the guidelines on the recognition and crediting of practical experience and achievements acquired at other higher education institutions.
- Private universities and private higher education institutions shall, like universities of applied sciences, be able to offer practice-oriented (applied research-oriented) higher education study programmes.
- The accreditation of new study programmes shall be organised as a “non-rejection procedure” for private universities and private higher education institutions with an accreditation period of more than 12 years, if they are assigned to an already established faculty.
- Students at private universities and private colleges should receive the same funding opportunities as students at state universities. The range of scholarships offered by the federal government is to be further expanded, whereby the neediness of the applicants is to be given priority when awarding scholarships.
- Abolition of the obligatory designation “private” in the naming of the private university or private higher education institution and in the professional designation of its staff (§ 2 para. 5, § 4 para. 5 and § 5 para. 3 PrivHG). Example: Problem Section 56c (1) UrhRG “Schools and universities may publicly perform works of cinematographic art and related works of audio art for the purposes of teaching or learning to the extent justified thereby.” – it is unclear whether this provision also applies to private universities and private colleges.
- The study admission examination at private universities and private colleges should also apply to admission to the corresponding subject at a state university (as is the case vice versa).
- A strengthening of the co-determination rights of Austrian private universities and colleges (e.g. the same share of votes in the General Assembly of AQ Austria and in the Austrian Higher Education Conference as state universities).
- The promotion of cooperation between universities of applied sciences and state-funded universities should be extended to private universities (e.g. doctoral colleges).
- A reduction of bureaucratic hurdles in entry procedures for non-EU students at Austrian private universities.
Measures against the tertiarisation of post-secondary education offers through international cooperations
Many private universities and private colleges are increasingly competing with Austrian educational institutions in the field of post-secondary education, which offer fee-based study programmes in cooperation with foreign universities. Due to a recognition and crediting policy of these educational institutions that is not regulated by law in Austria, we observe an unprecedented tertiarisation of post-secondary education offers there. Unfortunately, there has been no institution in Austria so far that evaluates the activities of these organisations and prohibits them in case of gross quality deficiencies. Cooperation with educational institutions in other EU countries is not subject to Austrian accreditation law. This means that reputable foreign educational institutions do not apply the high quality standards of their own country in cooperation with Austrian educational providers.
The lack of comparibility to Austrian studies remains unclear to the public. It often leads to a multitude of misunderstandings and disappointments among graduates. Graduates of stated cooperational educational institutions are often not admitted to Master’s programmes at universities accredited in Austria due to their low level of previous education, especially in methodological areas.
ÖPUK calls for the application of the same strict quality guidelines for studies that are predominantly or exclusively offered by domestic educational institutions according to § 27a and §27b HS-QSG as apply to private universities and private higher education institutions.
Furthermore, the scope of responsibility of the Ombudsman’s Office for Students should include students of all higher education institutions offering study programmes in Austria, as students of non-accredited education providers are often in particular need of counselling and legal support. Until the required measures are implemented, AQ Austria and the Ministry of Education and Science should clearly point out the risks of those study programmes that are offered in Austria by non-accredited education providers in cooperation with foreign universities by means of an intensified information policy.
Reducing obstacles to cooperation between private universities/universities and state-funded universities
Cooperation between a state-financed university and a private university or private higher education institution in Austria is just as costly as cooperation between a private university or private higher education institution and a higher education institution located abroad. Joint study programmes are possible, but require twice the effort (not only the university-internal decision-making process of the state-financed university is necessary, but also a study programme accreditation of the private university or private higher education institution).
ÖPUK therefore calls for simplification in the development of joint study programmes. Depending on the positioning of the study programmes as fee-based or non-cost-based programmes, an assessment in the form of a study programme accreditation according to PrivHG or in the form of a university-internal development according to UG 2002 should be sufficient.