Austria seeks to end 'jobs for life'

March 9, 2001

Austria's education ministry has stepped up attempts to remove the privileged status of university professors.

The ministry says it is a scandal that professors are guaranteed jobs for life and are promoted according to length of service regardless of how good they are.

New terms and conditions for university employees are to be introduced this autumn. But staff say the change will mean a fall in quality as staff compete for jobs, neglect research to try to force students through exams and fail to pass on their expertise for fear of creating future rivals.

They have already threatened strike action that will disrupt the start of the summer semester.

The government wants to replace the contracts for professors with a four-tier system based on fixed-term contracts of four, six and seven years and life tenure. Each time a contract comes to an end the post holder will have to reapply for his or her job.

Sigurd Höllinger, head of the department responsible for universities, said there was little opportunity for younger assistant professors to move up the career ladder. "Positions become available only when professors either retire or die. As a result, more and more jobs have had to be created for the growing number of assistant professors -a practice that has become financially unviable."

Dr Höllinger, a former university professor, said he understood the worries about job security but believed that increased competition could only improve the motivation of staff and the quality of teaching and research.

According to Dr Hölinger, "only those who are studying to become a professor or working by contract will have to abide by the new employment terms".

Despite the assurances, the teaching profession believes the bid to eliminate the budget deficit by 2002 is the real driving force behind the plans.

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