Edeltraud Hanappi-Egger steps down as Rector of WU


September 30 will mark the end of a special era at WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business).

Edeltraud Hanappi-Egger’s tenure as the first woman Rector in WU’s history will come to a close. Rector Hanappi-Egger has made a strong mark on the development of WU over the last eight years. Under her leadership, WU for example established a culture of welcoming new students, implemented uLike, an award-winning performance assessment concept, rolled out an English-taught bachelor’s program, set up a foundation, and investigated the university’s handling of its Nazi past. Her time as Rector also brought new events and developments such as the WU Summer Celebration, the ENGAGE.EU European University alliance, and much more.

Right at the beginning of her term of office, Rector Hanappi-Egger initiated steps for creating a new culture of welcoming students to WU. This included a broader range of student support services and the introduction of specific support for people who are the first in their family to take up a degree program at a university. With WU4You, Edeltraud Hanappi-Egger launched a special scholarship program aimed at high-potential high school students from low-income families across Austria. To fund these scholarships, all members of the Rector’s Council donated their performance bonuses every year.

Wise Women & uLiKe

Women are still blatantly underrepresented in top executive positions in Austria, so supporting and advancing the careers of young women in business was a high priority for Rector Hanappi-Egger from the get-go. With the Wise Women of WU initiative, she launched a program that pairs up young WU alumnae with successful women executives who act as mentors and coach the young graduates in their career development. The Rector also set out to rethink traditional approaches to performance assessment in academia, for example in senior faculty recruitment proceedings. As the Rector points out, “When it comes to selecting suitable applicants for senior faculty positions, the focus is almost always on research output. The more publications, the better. However, this view ignores differences in biographic contexts. Our uLike approach, in contrast, looks at academic performance in a broader context and rates a person’s academic achievements relative to factors like part-time versus full-time employment and academic age.” In 2016, the uLike concept won the Diversitas award presented by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research. It was applied in the 66 senior faculty selection proceedings that Rector Hanappi-Egger oversaw during her term of office. As Rector, Edeltraud Hanappi-Egger appointed 29 women professors, raising the proportion of women among WU’s full professors to 31%.

Improving the teacher-student ratio

One of WU’s major challenges is its teacher-student ratio (the number of holders of a venia docendi compared to the number of students), which is among the worst of all Austrian universities. Rector Hanappi-Egger has always highlighted the need to remedy this situation in the long term, and has secured 31 additional professorships for WU in her negotiations with the Federal Ministry. This has improved WU’s teacher-student ratio from 1:84 to 1:70, while the Austrian average is approximately 1:37. “This is of course a very positive development for WU, but there’s still a long way to go,” says Rector Hanappi-Egger. “As Rector of a public university in Austria, one of the biggest challenges is that long-term planning is practically impossible. We have to renegotiate our budget with the Federal Ministry every three years, and we never know for sure if there will be austerity measures, cost cuts, or an increase in funding. Unfortunately, the government has time and again failed to make a clear commitment to science, research, and funding for these activities. After all, there are plenty of international examples that show how it can be done,” she explains.

WU doubling down on digitalization

During the term of office of the outgoing Rector, WU has also made important advances in digitalization: In 2019, WU established the position of a dedicated Vice-Rector for Infrastructure and Digitalization. The university also launched the Transforming Tomorrow project for turning WU into a digital place of work, study, and research. WU filled eight business and economics professorships with a focus on digitalization, added digitalization-related subjects to its bachelor’s programs, and launched a Digital Economy master’s program. Further milestones included the creation of the first English-taught bachelor’s program, Business and Economics, which has become one of the most in-demand degree programs in Austria, and, most recently, the major overhaul of the German-taught Bachelor’s Program in Business, Economics, and Social Sciences, introducing the new Economy, Environment, Politics major. The year 2022 saw the establishment of the WU Foundation, which serves as an instrument for providing funding that goes beyond WU’s global budgets in order to support special projects.

125 Years of WU and reappraisal of WU’s past

It has also been very important to Rector Hanappi-Egger to continue looking at the dark chapters of WU’s history. Following valuable previous projects on university faculty, staff, and students who suffered persecution during the Nazi years and book provenance research, the Rector added a broader perspective, looking at the role WU and its predecessor institutions played during and after Nazi rule, and critically examining academic honors awarded to people with a dubious political past. WU’s activities to commemorate its 125-year anniversary in 2023 also included an event where the university revoked an honorary doctorate awarded to Walther Kastner and amended three further honorary doctorates with explanations of the historical context.

Looking back at her time as Rector, Edeltraud Hanappi-Egger says, “I’ve experienced many beautiful moments during the last eight years, for example WU’s summer celebrations, exciting events, and the search for WU’s Talents, which will remain with me as fond memories. There were also some difficult times, especially the years of the pandemic and the lockdowns, which were very challenging for us, not only organizationally but also atmospherically. But WU – or rather the WU community – has shown incredible power and energy and proven capable of unbelievable achievements. And this has always filled me with pride and admiration.”

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