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SP stresses tuition fee feud costs

The Social Democrats (SPÖ) have warned the universities from charging students, according to a report.

The Kurier reports today (Fri) that SPÖ science spokeswoman Andrea Kuntzl appealed in a letter to the country’s 21 public universities to abstain from reintroducing tuition fees. She made aware of potentially negative effects on their budgets caused by lawyers and calls for compensation if students took them to court.

The legal situation is unclear since the beginning of this month when the government coalition of SPÖ and People’s Party (ÖVP) let a deadline set by the Federal Constitutional Court (VfGH) expire. The court wanted the government to reform the current higher education law due to its error-prone formulation.

SPÖ and ÖVP could not agree about a correction of the regulations by 1 March. Now the SPÖ claims that the contents of the law are still legally binding while the ÖVP is of the opinion that the current situation enables the state-funded universities to reintroduce tuition fees. The fees were in effect until 2008 when all parliamentary factions but the ÖVP supported a draft bill to abolish them.

Science Minister Karlheinz Töchterle, who was nominated by the ÖVP last year, claimed today that the SPÖ was exaggerating the risks of court cases over the issue. The former Innsbruck University head said he knew too well how urgently the higher education institutions needed additional earnings.

Töchterle wants to enforce a comeback of tuition fees. He appealed to the SPÖ to consider his concept which would ensure that no student would pay more than 500 Euros per semester. SPÖ Carinthia leader Peter Kaiser suggested a post-graduation fee system as a possible compromise. Kaiser said everyone who earned 40,000 Euros a year after graduating from Austria’s public universities could be asked to pay 20 Euros a month until retirement.

Former SPÖ Chancellor Franz Vranitzky – who headed a SPÖ-ÖVP government coalition between 1996 and 1997 – said asking students for a contribution was "not unfair" in his opinion. He claimed that universities’ need for more money was evident. SPÖ Salzburg Governor Gabi Burgstaller plans to present an own concept for tuition fees within the coming months while SPÖ Upper Austria chief Josef Ackerl warned from setting up a system of charges.

Several universities are determined to reintroduce tuition fees in autumn if the government failed to create a solid financial fundament. Heinrich Schmidinger, who heads the Conference of University Rectors said charging more than the 1,000 Euros a year as suggested by the science minister was "unthinkable". Schmidinger claimed that students’ fears of sky-high charges were "ungrounded".

Austrian Times

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