L’Uni Tunes

Over-poulation in public universities cause Austria to fall behind in education

Earlier this month, I made the mistake of trying to enroll in the University of Vienna. After queuing for half a day and getting nowhere, I realized my time would be better spent applying for graduate school at Webster – a straight forward process of filling out the form, writing an application essay, and finding two professors to write letters of recommendation.

My experience at the “Uni Wien” began with hallways full of applicants, standing, lounging, some even lying on the floor. Then, two women giving out numbers gave me a hard time for coming without having paid the tuition fees in advance. Of course they had no idea that I had called the day before to check how the mystifying process worked.

Arriving five minutes after they opened at 9:00 am, I was No. 70 in line. I’d be lucky if my application were processed by the time they closed again at noon another student told me. She was there for the fifth time.

But this only hints at the problem. The University of Vienna is one of the only ones in the world without comprehensive admission standards, and, with its 379.22 Euro tuition fees per semester, it is also one of the cheapest. But what’s truly “deadly” is the combination of the two, causing overcrowded auditoriums, and massive frustration for students eager to learn.

Open admissions results in a lot of mediocre students. High-school graduates from all over the German-speaking world enroll at the University of Vienna because their grades were not good enough to be accepted at a university in their home country. At the Medical University, for example, Germans flood the program because of the “numerus clausus” admission restrictions at home. The low tuition is an added attraction.

This also applies to Austrian students. Waiting in line, I overheard several people bragging that they studied for the graduation exam (Matura) for only three days. They got all D’s, but did not care. But why should they if they can study anyway?

Another group of people was studying for a repeat examination because they had not passed the first time. By that time, I was fuming. How many are going to study hard and strive for distinction when people like this are “playing hooky” cutting school and partying all the time? Not that I would have wanted that, but the point is that those people will never care about doing anything well: they’ll graduate from university with C’s and D’s and that will be just fine.

Maybe that’s not the norm. But the people who actually take studying seriously suffer under the conditions created by the “educational apathetics.” One of my distant cousins finished a degree in education in the minimum time – which is hard to do – and she related how the internet application for some lectures started at 9 am, and the class would be full five minutes later. So she had to sit at the computer, clicking every couple of seconds, and hope that just maybe, she would be one of the lucky ones who actually got a place.

Another highly motivated friend, also an athlete, studies at the Economics University. She told me that if you do not stake claim to a seat two hours before the lecture, you have to sit in the hallway, hoping to be able to pick up bits and pieces.

So I have decided on a compromise: A Master’s degree at Webster in International Relations and language studies in Arabic and French alongside “just for fun” at the University of Vienna – if I weren’t keeping this in the back of my mind, I would probably not survive there. Other people, of course do not have the opportunity to escape the chaos by studying at a private university.

The new government may be more successful than the last one, and may actually come up with an emergency plan to save Austria from falling behind in education. And in the meantime, I will find out what it is like studying at a “normal” university.

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