Universities in the inflation dilemma

For the years 2022 to 2024, the universities have a total of 12.3 billion euros at their disposal. The sum was already defined in October 2020. The universities made higher demands, but in the end they were relieved about the budget increase of around twelve percent. The glass is “half full,” said Seidler. Almost two years later, there is sadness at the universities. “When we made the first calculations in April, it was clear to us that we wouldn’t get past the three years with the money,” says the researcher now.

As early as January, the uniko President stated in a broadcast that the budget surplus would be “eaten up” by rising inflation. A little later, uniko followed suit: the cost increases for electricity, rent and staff would devour 475 million euros. “Without financial compensation, drastic restrictions are unavoidable,” warned the universities. The rector of the University of Innsbruck, Tilmann Märk, emphasized in the direction of the federal government: “It can’t work out.”

Rector Sabine Seidler

ORF.at/Roland Winkler

The uniko boss is concerned: If the budget hole is not plugged, setbacks are to be expected

Budget hole “first and foremost hits the next generation”

When asked by ORF.at, the Ministry of Science said that they were “intensively calculating”. At the present time, one cannot say “seriously” how high the additional requirement is due to “many factors and the volatile situation”. In any case, the universities of applied sciences, which are also affected by inflation, should not be forgotten in this debate. According to the ministry, a “workable” solution is being sought together with the Ministry of Finance.

For Seidler, however, this is all happening too slowly. “At the moment the vacation time seems to have come,” says the rector of the Technical University (TU) Vienna to ORF.at. At the same time, however, she is also confident. “I assume there will be an addendum.”

It cannot be in the interest of the Republic if progress that has already been made in university operations is canceled out due to a lack of funding. In particular, it is also about the staff. In recent years, the universities have increased their staff. There is a risk that there will be cuts here. “If the universities lack the money, it will first and foremost affect the temporary positions, i.e. the young people.”

Prepared for renegotiations

According to Seidler, it is about jobs that need to be secured and graduates that are needed. With an additional 475 million euros, university operations can in any case be continued at the current level. The fact that the universities have 12.3 billion euros at their disposal is correct, says the uniko President. But only a fraction of the budget is freely available. Most of the money is tied to fixed costs. Large investments are not possible.

Rector Sabine Seidler

ORF.at/Roland Winkler

Portraits of the TU Vienna rectors hang in Seidler’s office. A portrait of the first rector will also find its place there.

In any case, the universities seem to be prepared for renegotiations – after all, a study is to be published in a few weeks that will highlight the economic and social effects of universities. As early as 2017, the Economic Research Institute (WIFO) calculated on behalf of uniko and the Ministry of Science that a euro invested in the universities pays for itself in the state budget after three to five years and also brings long-term growth effects.

It is clear to Seidler that the universities will have to save energy in the future not only because of inflation, but also because of the climate crisis. There are currently no concerted actions, but “of course” the universities would consider how they can reduce their energy consumption. The city of Linz, for example, recently announced that it would reduce the lighting in public buildings. At the German Justus Liebig University, outdoor areas will be illuminated for a shorter period of time and teaching rooms will be heated or cooled more “reservedly”.

Staying at home “of course” if you are CoV positive

However, the coming autumn and winter will not only be characterized by the shortage of energy. The corona virus will continue to be part of everyday life – also at universities. In any case, the TU Vienna will start the new semester with a presence, “even if we have already said so in the past two years,” says Seidler. Face-to-face events are particularly important for first-semester students to familiarize themselves with the university system.

Rector Sabine Seidler

ORF.at/Roland Winkler

Seidler emphasizes that the TU Vienna will start in attendance in the coming winter semester

Of course, the university rector knows that things could go faster in autumn or winter. “We will take precautions in the event of a renewed increase in the number of cases, and that will happen in autumn,” says Seidler. However, there will be no strict access criteria such as a 2-G rule. In view of the most recent regulation, according to which those who tested positive can go about their work in the workplace, the researcher emphasizes that she will “of course” recommend her employees to stay at home.

“Step to reality is completely missing”

The uniko President is not satisfied with the organization of the Institute of Digital Sciences Austria (IDSA), formerly TU Linz. Although the founding law that was passed was “significantly better than the draft”, there was still no comparison with the content of the university landscape. “The new university is based on the idea: We are building a new house on a green field with nothing far and wide. But the reality is simply different,” says Seidler. In the current performance agreement period, there are over 20 interdisciplinary studies that deal with digitization.

The IDSA is scheduled to start operating as an independent university in the next winter semester. In contrast to the other public universities, the new university does not fall under the university regime. Despite criticism and protests from the university sector, the government went through with the plans. In the start-up phase, the operation of the university should be specified. In any case, the plan was for the new university to deal with the topic of digitization. “The previous concept also contains positive elements. But the step to reality is completely missing,” says Seidler.

Rector Sabine Seidler

ORF.at/Roland Winkler

The TU Vienna rector would not describe the Institute of Digital Sciences Austria in Linz as a competitor

The uniko president does not currently recognize the added value of the new university, which Governor Thomas Stelzer (ÖVP) sees. You’re still stuck in a vision “that can’t be implemented,” says Seidler. The fact that a new university was built out of the ground within two years can also be seen as a success. According to the researcher, the other universities will continue to be involved in the process. “In the end, you have to do your homework. Now we just do the homework after the project. It would have been better the other way around.”

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