EU rules on access bias

February 4, 2005

Austrian universities could be forced to drop an "education-for-all" policy for home students and introduce strict selection procedures if a European Court of Justice ruling forces them to accept students from abroad with basic qualifications.

The court in Luxembourg has already indicated that Austrian education laws on admitting students from other European Union countries are discriminatory.

At the moment, only EU students who are able to secure a place at a domestic university are accepted by Austrian universities, whereas any Austrian with a high-school leaving certificate - regardless of grade - is guaranteed a place.

But this could all change if the expected court ruling later this year backs claims that the Austrian system contravenes EU law. EU Justice Court Advocate General Francis Jacobs has recommended the court condemn Austria.

The education ministry argues that changing the law to allow free access to all EU citizens would upset the education system's financial balance. Mr Jacobs rejected this claim. He said the only example Austria had provided was for its medical faculties, which he admitted would receive five times the amount of students they are capable of accommodating if rules were to change.

But he added that the changes would not affect the whole university system.

He said Austria would be protected by EU laws that state that foreign students do not have to be financially supported by their host country.

Mr Jacobs recommended Austria consider introducing a new selection process for all undergraduates. He said an entrance exam or minimum grade requirements would ensure universities were not overburdened.

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