Fees shrink Austria's intake

August 17, 2001

Austria's education minister expects that the introduction of university fees will reduce the number of students by 70,000.

Elisabeth Gehrer has implicitly accepted the premise of a study by the country's student union predicting that university numbers, currently 244,000, will fall by about 30 per cent from the autumn.

The decision last September to end free university education and impose €7 (£450) annual fees sparked criticism from opposition parties and university professors and led to hostile demonstrations.

But the minister has repeatedly said the true figure of those actually studying is probably lower than 244,000, and that the introduction of fees should reduce the student dropout rate.

According to the student union, the majority of the 70,000 will end their studies for financial reasons.

Werner Amon, a spokesman for the governing conservative People's Party, stressed that "anyone who wants to study can do so", adding that in 2002 the budget for student grants would be increased from €31 million to €145 million.

Austrian banks have already thwarted plans for a fees boycott. The students had hoped to open an account, managed by a lawyer, into which students would pay their fees. The bank would then pay the fees to the universities in stages as a means of protest against their introduction.

But the students failed to find a bank willing to provide an account, effectively killing the plan. The student union says it will continue its battle against fees through legal action.

Despite the protests, about 17,000 students have already paid their fees for the coming semester.

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