EU fights Austrian quota

February 23, 2007

The European Commission plans to sue Austria over the country's quota system for university places.

In January, the Commission took action against Austria over its system of restricting placements for international students, saying the arrangement violated European Union law.

But Austria's Chancellor, Alfred Gusenbauer, said recently that the Commission should keep its hands off the country's system, especially in respect to medical school enrolments.

He said: "With our German friends we have found a solution, and we don't want the Commission to interfere. If it insists on doing so, it will endanger healthcare in Austria. The Commission should cease trying to function as a high-court judge."

In a similar action in 2005, the European Court of Justice ruled that Austria had discriminated against students from other EU member states, and Austria had to amend its tertiary entrance regulations. But legislation was reintroduced in June 2006 in reaction to an influx of German students.

The new law restricts foreign students by reserving 70 per cent of university places for Austrians, 25 per cent for students from other EU member states and 5 per cent for other foreigners.

Germany places heavy restrictions on university placements based on a scoring system from secondary school marks, whereas in Austria all students with a high-school diploma have access to university places.

Officials fear that foreign medical students will return home after graduating to practise in their own countries, causing the Austrian healthcare system to collapse.

Martha Brinek of the Austrian Ministry of Science said: "It's our goal to find allies within the EU and to create awareness about the special Austrian situation."

Belgium faces a similar action from the Commission. If the countries cannot convince the Commission to drop the cases by the end of March, they could face a daily fine of up to £10,000 until they amend their legislation.

If the Commission takes Austria to the European Court of Justice, a decision is not expected before mid-2008.

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