The European Court of Justice ruled Thursday that Austrian universities may not restrict students from other EU countries from studying in Austria. Vienna fears an invasion of foreign students, especially from Germany.
German universities are notoriously underfunded and overcrowded
There were long queues outside Vienna's Medical University this week. Some would-be students even camped out overnight. They wanted to be among the first to enroll for the new university year -- and they wanted to beat the Germans.
"The problem is that everyone's panicked because of the European court decision that will allow Germans in. Everyone wants to enroll as quickly as possible," one student said.
Any student who has completed high school in Austria has the right to a place at university. But this right is not extended to students from other EU countries. They must prove they have a place at a university in their home country before being allowed to study in Austria. That is discrimination and thus unacceptable, the European Court of Justice ruled Thursday.
The decision was widely anticipated and Austria's universities expect it will open the gates to a flood of German students. Professor Christiana Spiel, dean of Vienna University's psychology department and a member of the government's Future Commission on Education said the fears were well founded.
"I think they are very realistic because in Germany there are about 13,000 students interested in studying psychology. However, only 3,000 of them get the opportunity. So the rest of the 10,000 students…we really expect that some of them -- and not so few -- will come to Austria."
Austria expects up to 80,000 German students who failed test to enter German medical, veterinary and economic faculties to try to enroll at Austrian universities.
"A nation of eight million people cannot offer places to study to all those who have been rejected in Germany, a nation of 80 million people," Education Minister Elisabeth Gehrer told the Kurier newspaper.
In response to the ruling, Gehrer said she would submit a bill to parliament Friday to end unscreened access to universities. The limitations would concern studies in medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and biology. Should the bill be adopted by parliament "university directors will have the possibility to impose entrance exams or a grading semester," Gehrer said.
Austria is the only European Union country that does not regulate access to university studies.
A total 210,000 students have enrolled in Austrian universities for the 2004/05 semesters, according to official figures.