Private universities soon to end Austrian state's monopoly

November 24, 2000

Three private universities in Austria are on the verge of receiving national accreditation in a move that signals the end of the state monopoly on education.

The government hopes the move will encourage a spate of research projects and investment opportunities in the private sector.

The recommendation of the accreditation board to accept three private universities into the national system is expected to be signed by education minister Elisabeth Gehrer in December.

The universities - Imadec, Webster and the International - will be able to offer qualifications that will then, for the first time, be recognised by the state.

Linda Strauss, of the ministry for education and culture, said the accreditations had two main benefits. Because qualifications will now be officially recognised, Austrian and international students will no longer have to have their degrees converted elsewhere. Second, Austria hopes to integrate and expand on the high-quality teaching and research possibilities the private institutions offer.

Petra Adams, from Webster University, said accreditation meant international students will no longer suffer under restrictive visa laws. She said: "The whole process has been simplified."

But it is not just an advantage for overseas students. Official recognition means students at the institutions will be eligible for state subsidies. Christian Joksch, founder of Imadec, said: "This is going to be a great help in attracting Austrians who will be able to receive the usual benefits."

Mr Joksch said the possibilities for the higher education sector are immense: "We can now offer students the choice of where they get their education."

The greater acceptance of the courses also means a greater possibility of attracting top academics to the new universities. "We hope to attract the best professors in the world to teach and carry out research," Mr Joksch said.

"Austria is going to benefit from the research - but so are our students. We will be offering something the rest of the university system cannot," he added.

Ms Adams agreed: "Through these accreditations, we are being recognised as a part of Austria's educational landscape. It will be easier to win sponsorship from Austrian firms and we will be able to create more opportunities."

Both universities are planning new courses to meet the expected increase in demand.

Webster University expects numbers to rise by 30 per cent in the next few years and Imadec predicts a 30-50 per cent rise in the same period.

However, both institutions admit they will not see a difference overnight.

They need to invest in infrastructure to cope with increased demand, while maintaining the high-quality niche service that is their selling point.

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