Austria introduces cap on EU students

14.02.06 @ 09:56

  1. By Mark Beunderman

Austria will cap the number of foreign students at its universities at 20 percent in a bid to restrict German access to its medical faculties, despite a recent EU court ruling which declared earlier restrictions illegal.

  • The university of Graz said 42 percent of its first-year medicine students are now German (Photo: European Commission)

Austrian education minister Elisabeth Gehrer on Monday (13 February) announced the quota system, reserving 75 percent of places in the country's faculties for medicine and dentistry for Austrian students, according to Austrian press reports.

Twenty percent of places will be for students from other EU countries, while non-EU nationals will fill up the remaining 5 percent.

The move comes as a response to a recent surge in popularity of Austrian universities among German students in particular.

Germans have been able to study freely in Austria since the European Court of Justice (ECJ) last July declared earlier Austrian restrictions illegal.

Before the ECJ ruling, Austria had ruling required applicants from outside the country to prove they had been accepted into a university in their country of origin before they would be considered for Austrian third level education.

But this was ruled as discrimination on the grounds of nationality by the EU's top court.

The judgement prompted a surge in German students at the medical faculties of Vienna, Graz and Innsbruck this winter semester, with the university of Graz saying 42 percent of its students are now Germans, according to Spiegel Online.

Quotas compatible with EU law?

Ms Gehrer, as well as EU law experts, told Austrian media the new quota system was compatible with EU law however.

The Austrian education minister explained the move was prepared in contact with the European Commission, as well as with Germany and Begium, which faces a similar problem with French students.

Belgium has seen its medical faculties filled up by French students who flee the tough admissions criteria in their own country.

Belgian authorities this month also opted for a quota scheme.

But Theo Ohlinger, one Austrian law expert, told Austrian daily Der Standard one can "never be sure" that the ECJ would not declare the quota scheme illegal as well.

"In the end it will come down to the ECJ, whether it accepts the new Austrian rules as proportionate – that is always a question of judgement."

The expert added that in any case, Austria would now have "three years of calm," which is the minimum period before a possible new complaint by a German student could reach the ECJ.

Schussel criticism on ECJ

Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schussel in December criticised the ECJ's interference in the Austrian university system.

"Suddenly, judgements emerge on the role of women in the German federal army, or on access of foreign students to Austrian universities – that is clearly national law," he stated.

The chancellor added "the ECJ…has in the last couple of years systematically expanded European competencies, even in areas, where there is decidedly no [European] community law."