Betriebsrat für das wissenschaftliche Personal
2018 Amendment to the Universities Act - New financing model for universities
The new Universities Act (Universitätsgesetz, UG) amendment is being called a milestone with regard to increased transparency and efficiency in the allocation of funds. According to Federal Minister Faßmann, the amendment represents an important paradigm shift towards capacity-oriented financing of study places, and the accompanying measures, including some increases in personnel and an expansion of access regulations, create the freedom necessary for research and teaching (see also https://www.parlament.gv.at/PAKT/PR/JAHR_2018/PK0157/index.shtml).
This sounds good, and certainly inspires hope and optimism, especially at a university like WU, but should also maybe be taken with a grain of salt with regard to the effects of individual parameters.
An overview of the most important changes is available online here (in German), where the ministry has provided a brief summary of the amendment. Information in English on the amendment is available here.
We would like to focus here particularly on the new university funding provisions in the amendment. The Austrian university budget for the 2019–2021 period was increased by € 1.35 billion to a little more than € 11 billion, which is a positive development. This change is based on a compromise made between representatives of the government and Universities Austria (UNIKO) before the recent elections.
The section of the Public Service Union Austria (GÖD) responsible for universities sees some of the provisions associated with this as problematic, however. In spite of numerous requests, no employee representatives were involved either last summer or during the finalization phase. As this amendment regulating the indicator-based funding and development of universities will result in very comprehensive changes, the union finds it unacceptable that employee representatives were not consulted.
The UG amendment includes a “three-pillar” funding scheme for the three academic performance areas teaching, research (and/or advancement and appreciation of the arts), and infrastructure. Funding will be regulated according to selected indicators, and in the future, up to 70% of the university budget will be indicator based. “These indicators are not defined by the law, however, but rather regulated by decree pursuant to § 12 (7) of the UG. This means that these crucial definitions are not subject to parliamentary debate, and therefore stripped of legal protection,” criticizes the GÖD section in a letter addressed to the members of the Science Committee of the National Council. The definition of these indicators will have an influence not only on university funding, but also on how universities operate.
The number of employees is taken as a reference for various indicators. This reference is also not defined in the law, but is regulated by decree. The union also takes a critical view of this.
Some regulations are also based on the ratio of students to teaching staff. However, it is not clear who is included in the group “teaching staff”, making further clarification necessary. The GÖD section responsible for universities requires that “the majority of teaching staff at each university ... should not be employed to an extent of less than 50%.” The union also considers it essential that in all categories, at least 30% of all teaching staff’s annual working time be allocated to research.
As you can see, the new university funding scheme has both advantages and disadvantages.
Access regulations (which set caps on student places) have been expanded as a further part of the UG amendment and now also include the field of “law,” allowing WU to draft the appropriate regulations to restrict student places on its business law programs and introduce them if and when necessary.
Finally, the introduction of an overall Austrian university plan can also be classified as a controlling measure, although it remains to be seen which direction the strategic considerations will take and to what extent it will be possible to develop a forward-looking common goal for the development of the Austrian higher education sector.
All these points were already presented last summer as essential pillars of a planned UG amendment. One new aspect of the actual amendment can be considered to be a remarkable innovation – the possibility of § 99a professorships, or so-called “opportunity-hiring positions”. These positions will allow the rectors in future to recruit “internationally outstanding academic personalities” without having to follow the previously required call for application procedures, and to appoint them in a streamlined process. Up to 5% of a university’s senior faculty positions can be allocated as §99a positions in the Strategic Plan. These positions do not have to be allocated to a specific subject.
This option is certainly a very attractive recruitment tool for the governing bodies of a university, giving them almost free rein in appointing senior faculty positions.
If we look at this instrument in the context of universities’ hybrid governance structures, it will be interesting to see to what extent especially the Full Professors’ Associations (Professorenkurien) will be prepared to give up the opportunities they have had to influence the process up until now. Professors have traditionally invested a great deal of time in this process, since it involves determining the relevance of the position within the university system and reviewing candidates’ qualifications and suitability for the job.
For us as staff representatives, it is important that recruitment procedures remain transparent and non-discriminatory. However the WU Rector’s Council chooses to deal with the new opportunities offered by § 99a, we will also be watching this new recruitment procedure very closely.