National Council gives green light to new university in Linz (PK0283/03/20/2024)

Vienna (PK) – The new digital university currently under construction in Linz will become the “Interdisciplinary Transformation University – IT:U” with its own legal basis. A majority of the National Council, with votes from the ÖVP and the Greens, voted in favor of the law regulating the structures of the new university. This means the new public university could start regular operations from autumn 2024. Education Minister Martin Polášek explained that Linz was chosen as the location for the new university because other universities and collegiate institutions are already located there and should be co-operated with.

A federal law giving a permanent legal basis to the Transitional Transition University (IT:U) is scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2024. At the same time, the federal law establishing the Institute of Digital Science Austria, whose establishment phase began in 2022, will expire, according to the law's explanatory notes. Hence there will be no parallel application of the two pieces of legislation.

As in the scientific committee, the founding process and the planned structure of the new university were heavily criticized by MPs from the SPÖ, FPÖ and NEOS, who therefore disagreed with the law.

The SPÖ sees a missed opportunity to promote digital transformation

Eva-Maria Holzleitner (SPÖ) spoke of a “bumpy road” for IT:U, which started as a “PR stunt”. We will have to wait years for the results. This proves that supporting companies in Upper Austria with research in the field of digitization would have made more sense from the start. Extensive and “devastating” criticism of the university program with its many legal exceptions was expressed from the scientific community.

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Andrea Kuntzl (SPÖ) also doubted the usefulness of the plan, which arose from an election campaign. The current law was widely and unanimously rejected by evaluation experts. Among other things, there are fears about the impending economization of inspection activities and the constitutionality of the law is being questioned.

Katharina Kucharowitz (SPÖ) also pointed to Sebastian Kurz's “choice treat” and “extensive criticism” of the project, which began as a prestigious project. Kucharowitz also found that the money spent on this questionable project could have been better spent on existing universities and research institutes.

ÖVP: The law provides a good framework, which must now be filled

Rudolf Daschner (ÖVP) said he was pleased that a new technical university with a focus on digitization was now being created. One can be skeptical about a new project, but prejudices such as those expressed by the SPÖ are regrettable. The law creates a new structure for the functioning of a university, which is very good and needs to be filled now. Appropriate recruitment of good people will be important.

Despite its short history, the new digital university is already gaining momentum, said ÖVP MP Andrea Holzner. It will be a technical university with a strong interdisciplinary approach. Linz, as a university city and a commercial, industrial and cultural destination, is a suitable location for the ambitious project.

FPÖ: The new university is a “funny institution” that ignores the need

Gerhard Deimek (FPÖ) recalled that the initiative was an election promise. What happened to it “defies description,” he said. Diemek felt that it would be wrong to create its own legal basis without enabling the establishment of a university within the framework of the existing university law. The FPÖ MP said he had caved in to the Greens' wishes and feared that a “funny institution” would be created in Upper Austria that would be unable to provide urgently needed engineering training.

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Martin Graf (FPÖ) pointed out that the bill was widely rejected by science and universities. Even the ÖVP's science spokesperson and the Greens' science spokesperson are clearly not convinced by the plan. After the upcoming elections, Graff insisted, it would be “properly reformed” or “rejected.” In one amendment, he called for the university's future students to be granted legal opt-out from membership in the Austrian Student Union. The motion did not get a majority.

Green: The new university has great potential

The establishment of a new university is not inconsistent with increased funding for existing institutions, emphasized Eva Blimlinger (Greens). The project went through several phases. The planned digital university has now become an interdisciplinary university with a technological focus open to many issues, including artistic ones. It therefore has the potential to best support the social transformation that comes with digitization. As the University Act is not flexible enough for such a task, a separate Act makes sense for the institution currently being set up. Meanwhile, major construction works have already been done.

NEOS criticizes the “amateur” company

Martina Künsberg Sarre (NEOS) talked about an “amateur project” that her group disagreed with. Names changed during its founding already showed widespread uncertainty about the true purpose of the new university. This could not be covered up, so his group did not accept the law.

Polaschek: Austria will get a university with flexible structures

The purpose of the new IT:U University, the future 23rd public university in the Austrian higher education sector, is to strengthen Austria in the international digital competition, said Minister of Science Polašek. He is confident that the new facility will provide important new impetus here. In terms of university policy, new paths are also taken when establishing a university, as the management system is based on top institutions with comparable tasks in the Anglo-American region. It is therefore appropriate to create a separate legal basis for the new university. Incidentally, this path was also taken when new universities were established in the past. The structures now being developed are flexible and will guarantee the new organization an appropriate scope for action. (Continuation of National Council) sox

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Note: Meetings of the National Council and Federal Council can also be followed via live stream and are available as video-on-demand at the Parliamentary Media Library.

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