Austerity strikes close campuses

March 29, 1996

Public sector cuts in Austria have led to a wave of strikes and demonstrations in higher education with calls for the resignation of minister Rudolph Scholten.

Up to 40,000 students and assistant lecturers have taken to the streets in weekly demonstrations with lectures held in underground railway stations.

All universities have been effectively closed since the beginning of March, but there are no signs of a retreat by the government.

Mr Scholten wants to either pay lecturers and assistant lecturers less for the same teaching load or maintain salary levels and axe jobs. Vienna's University of Economics has warned that it will respond to cuts with a freeze on enrolments.

The government is trying to lop Sch400 million (Pounds 25 million) off teaching costs. Incentives are planned for lecturers willing to accept extra hours. The austerity package includes plans to end free transport for students and reduce the upper age limit for eligibility for an allowance to students' families from to 26.

Alfred Ebenbauer, rector of the University of Vienna, told a meeting of students and teaching staff: "I demand that the government withdraw the entire package of cuts affecting students. We need new negotiations. The government's plans are irresponsible, short-sighted and unacceptable."

The rector, wearing a T-shirt with a rib cage painted on it to symbolise a starving university, also warned that budget cuts were jeopardising the debate on higher education reform.

Gerhard Windischbauer, chairman of Austria's higher education teachers' association, said that his organisation is in favour of the structural reforms the ministry intends to pursue, but flatly rejects austerity measures affecting teaching.

Teaching staff in several departments at the University of Vienna have announced that they are cancelling all lectures. A resolution has been passed condemning the cuts as an attack on the quality of teaching and research. Lecturers at the universities of Linz and Salzburg have also suspended teaching, and there have been calls for the minister's resignation.

Agnes Berlakovich, president of the national union of students, says that students will use all democratic means to stop the cuts. One of the campaigns being considered is a referendum on "unsocial austerity measures".

Demonstrations have been held in several cities and students at several universities are on strike. At Karl Franzens University, Graz, they are considering boycotting all lectures.

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