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The ‘education parasites’

 Augustin (Austria) 05 October 2019

Rising university fees in Germany, combined with ever tougher minimum entry grades, have led to more and more German students taking up their studies in other countries - particularly in Austria. (1264 Words) - By Jörg Wimalasena


It’s fine that the German capital owns a street in Vienna. German students can express their sympathy in the Viennese university walkout as the street signs have become messages of solidarity. (Photo courtesy of Jörg Wimalasena)

German students are taking over Austrian universities. This is an often-mentioned fear in Austria these days. Rising university fees in Germany, combined with ever tougher minimum entry grades, have led to more and more German students taking up their studies in other countries. Austrian tabloids are quick to place the blame for recent student protests on foreign students. This however obscures other issues, such as the government's education policies and severe underfunding.

And it's not just the tabloids who are blaming the Germans. The director of Innsbruck University is demanding payment from the German government, claiming too many German students are depleting his university's resources.

Germany's system of allocating places on courses based on applicants' final school grades is clearly one of the problems. In times when there are more applicants than places, only straight-A students will be able to get on popular courses such as medicine.

Despite the unquestionably growing numbers of German students at Austrian universities, however, the current paranoia carries more than a touch of racism.

Ironically, migrants coming to Austria are blamed for not wanting to go back to their home countries, whereas German students are blamed for leaving the country after finishing their studies. One suggestion to cope with the recent influx has been to introduce tuition fees at Austrian universities. A perhaps desired side-effect of such a move could be getting rid of poorer students who are seen by some as a drain on the system.

Opponents of the strike rely on anti-German resentment

Students at the University of Vienna, the largest in Austria, decided to occupy the main lecture theatre, protesting about unsustainable study conditions, the lack of financing from universities, obligatory course introductory phases, and the fall in student involvement in the university's bodies and planned access restriction are only some of the examples in which the students questioned the college of politics. Nevertheless, the rector of Innsbruck University and media such as Kronezeitung, have discovered the reason for the students' misery, German students.

During the student occupation in October last year, the headlines in the tabloids have been "German students are taking over Austrian universities" and the like. In the opinion of Karlheinz Töchterle, the rector of the University of Innsbruck, too many German students have matriculated at his university this year and now he's seeking compensation from Germany. Töchterle is only one of many people who has animosity towards the stampede of students from the neighbouring country. The "Piefkes" [Austrian slang for German citizens] shouldn't continue to take scarce university places away from upstanding Austrians.

So why do German students move to Austria? Germans have always been welcomed in Austria. As long as their money is going towards tourist attractions in Vienna or to Austria's ski resorts, they have been warmly welcomed guests. That additional German students attend Austrian universities in order to avoid the selective tendency of the German education system, is a thorn in the side of the decision makers and the reactionary media. The reasons are obvious, in Germany students have to cough up hundreds more Euros in tuition fees. Even if it is just this ability to afford university access complicating fees, they don't often find a place at university. In popular subjects such as medicine and psychology, the demand for the offer of university places has gone up because the German education policy has decided to educate only a handful of medical students. Instead of increasing education budgets and making access to higher education possible to more young people, the so called 'numerus clausus' (restricted admission) has been introduced. University places are almost exclusively based on the results of the general examination for university entrance (taken in Austria and Switzerland). Only the very best shall be given the opportunity to study the subject of their choice.

The selection process is to be abolished without any replacement!

People with an end of school grade worse than 1.3, for example can't study medicine. Otherwise, they have to wait five years for a place at university. In the worst case young, motivated, potential doctors will be held back from studying even if they only have one grade worse than "very good" on the university entrance examination report. The question of whether grades in general or grades in subjects which aren't significant to higher study anyway, about the "eligibility" for the specific subject, is not supplied. The selection process doesn't take individual cases into account. Under these circumstances, you can't blame these young people who are thirsting for an education for trying their luck abroad. People are drawn from Poland, the Baltic, the Netherlands and even Austria itself, protecting their right to an education.

These students are now being exploited and presented as a scapegoat for the grievances of the Austrian education system. In all seriousness, the protesting students in the lecture hall are to be sold the educational policies of the horrible black and red federal government, that the German students are responsible and not Minister Hahn. Fortunately, the least part of students who attempt by the occupation of almost all Austrian universities, improve the study conditions for themselves and future generations of students, and not be influenced by malicious media campaigns. It was pointed out several times at rallies that the protest is directed exclusively at the Federal Republic of Austria's education policy and not explicitly at German students or any other foreign student group.

Austrian paranoia

In many aspects these prejudices against German students are a reminder of resentment towards migrants. Some of them are social spongers, the others are education spongers. They take advantage of our wonderful Austria, steal our expensive education and then move back to Germany again. Ironically, migrants coming to Austria are blamed for not wanting to go back to their home countries, whereas German students are blamed for leaving the country after finishing their studies. To what extent have German students become a target; perhaps the Austrian inferiority complex can explain it. The perceived inferiority towards their neighbours in the north results in a paranoia which the Germans can exercise influence over Austrian students.

How could Strache's (leader of Freedom Party of Austria) counter concept of "Austria first" appear in higher education policies? University places just for Austrians? Do they want to add to an education policy to the existing racist and xenophobic policies or simply be hauled to the place of slaughter as often as lambs instead of the wolves? Or what would it be like if tuition fees were reintroduced? Whose discontinuation appears to attract the Germans like magic? Tuition fees would have a pleasant side effect on keeping financially weak students away from universities and hand over the places to the really "interesting ones". For if you want an education, you'll have to pay for it whether you're serious about it or not.

Would university rectors and government media take responsibility and finally put more money into the education policy instead of blaming the supposed outsider groups for the grievances, would it be any problem at all for Austrian universities to take on more students from all over the world. Last but not least, each and every person who moves in, enriches the cultural diversity of the country and the cultural exchange between countries. In Germany as well as in Austria there is widespread fear that someone else, especially strangers, could take something away from them, must not lead to discrimination between sections of the population. Not in the case of German students and also in any other case.

The author is a German national and studies political sciences at the University of Vienna, he has been studying in Austria for a year.

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Originally published by Augustin (Austria). ©

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