Austrian university students campaign for education reform, 2009

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Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
There was essentially no activity between May and mid-October. Part of this was because of summer vacations.
March
2009
to
December
2009
Location and Goals
Country: 
Austria
Location City/State/Province: 
Graz, Linz, Salzburg, Klagenfurt, and other towns around Austria.
Location Description: 
University campuses and city centers
Goals: 
The abolishment of tuition fees, the repeal of the Bologna Process, decreased class sizes, and increased funding for education.
 

Beginning in 1999 the Austrian government has made several large changes to the traditional higher education process, which had existed for hundreds of years prior. In 1999 Austria signed off on the Bologna Process, a European Union-wide initiative to standardize education throughout Europe. This meant that universities required students to complete degrees in between three and four years, when Austrians had traditionally had five or six. Despite a decrease in the time period for degree completion, syllabuses were barely touched, and so students were overwhelmed by work. Tuition fees were also introduced for the first time in 2001. Beginning in March 2009 and ending in December of the same year, thousands of students from around Austria protested these changes in the educational system.

Thousands of students marched in Vienna on March 11, protesting against the Austrian government’s adoption of the Bologna Process. Protesters carried banners, sang songs, and chanted slogans. Students also marched at many universities around Austria, employing similar methods. On the 28th, there was another round of protests in Vienna. Around 15,000 activists marched under the slogan “we will not pay for your crisis”, in reference to proposed cuts in state-funded education due to the economic downturn. While students made up a large majority of the protests, union members and other pro-labor groups also marched. On April 24, there were again large demonstrations throughout Austria. This time, the government had cancelled holidays, angering students. 60,000 students protested around Austria, with 25,000 of those in Vienna. Students marched from the Stephansplatz to the Parliament, and later to the Ministry of Education. Protesters turned out not only in major cities, but also in smaller towns around the country. Demonstrators carried a variety of homemade banners demanding more funding for education.

The Internet was an important communication medium for students throughout the protests. Students wrote songs about the protests and posted them on facebook and youtube. Students also posted videos of demonstrations on the Internet, and this helped spread word of the campaign around the Austria. Students were able to copy methods utilized at other universities by watching these videos. The American band Anti-Flag performed in front of students occupying a lecture hall at Vienna University, and the protesters circulated the video on the Internet.

After the widespread protests in March and particularly April, there was a lull in activity until October, partly due to summer vacations. On October 20, students at the Academy of Fine Arts, the only Austrian university not to have adopted the Bologna Process, occupied the campus to prevent administrators from implementing Bologna Process reforms. The following day, students at the University of Vienna occupied the university’s largest lecture hall in solidarity with the protesters from the Academy of the Fine Arts. These actions not only encouraged students from eight other universities in Austria to perform similar actions, but it also initiated a rise in activity in Germany too. Students at universities around Austria also occupied lecture halls within the next few days. Protesters organized themselves, writing press releases, creating “people’s kitchens”, and conducting daily protest meetings. Both the printers’ union and the metalworkers’ union also expressed their solidarity with the protesters. Federal Chancellor Werner Faymann, of the liberal Social Democratic Party, stated that he would refuse to meet the protesters’ demands. This was a crushing blow to the campaign because the Social Democrats were the most likely of major political parties to support them.

On the 28th, the occupying students in Vienna issued an open letter demanding more funding for education, the elimination of tuition fees, and a face-to-face meeting with Science Minister Johannes Hahn. Hahn agreed to meet protesters. Soon after, students at nine other Austrian Universities also performed sit-ins in lecture halls. Students estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 students and union members marched in Vienna with the slogan “money for education, not for the banks and big business”. Marchers demanded a billion additional Euros for educational funding. 5,000 students marched in Salzburg and other students held a march in Linz. Protesters also demonstrated in Klagenfurt, Graz, and Innsbruck.

Despite the enormity of the protests, they suffered from a lack of clear direction. Students repeatedly emphasized the grassroots nature of the campaign, and therefore refrained from naming a leadership. While this ensured that no one group took control, it also meant that the campaign lacked a united message or goal. The campaign was decentralized to begin with, due to its presence at different universities, and the protesters decided to keep it that way.

On December 21, police removed the last students from Vienna University’s largest lecture hall and protests around Austria decreased. Unlike in Germany, Austrian politicians failed to take action on behalf of the protesters. Students vowed to continue their action, but their numbers were significantly less than they had been in October and November.

The campaign was not successful. It involved a large number of people, but did not win allies within the Austrian government, and achieved none of its demands.

Research Notes
Influences: 

The German students that were fighting for the same goals at the same time greatly influenced the actions of the Austrian students (see "German University Students Campaign for Education Reform, 2009") (1,2).

Sources: 
Der Funke. "Austria: Spring Awakening (Part Two) – 60,000 School Students on the Streets All over the Country." World Socialist Web Site. International Committee of the Fourth International, 27 Apr. 2009. Web. <http://www.marxist.com/austria-spring-awakening-60000-students.htm>.

Heuser, Marius. "Student Protests Continue in Austria." World Socialist Web Site. International Committee of the Fourth International, 18 Nov. 2009. Web. <http://www.wsws.org/articles/2009/nov2009/stud-n18.shtml>.

Salzmann, Markus, and Johannes Stern. "Student Protests in Austria." World Socialist Web Site. International Committee of the Fourth International, 07 Nov. 2009. Web. <http://wsws.org/articles/2009/nov2009/aust-n07.shtml>.

"Protesters Evicted from Vienna University after Two Months." Deutsche Press-Agentur, 21 Dec. 2009. Web.

"Student Protests Spread across Austria." Deutsche Press-Agentur. Web.

"Student Protests Spread in Germany and Austria." Deutsche Press-Agentur, 12 Nov. 2009. Web.

Trausmuth, Garnot. "“The Universities Are Burning” – Huge Student Mobilisations in Austria." In Defense of Marxism. International Marxist Tendency, 10 Nov. 2009. Web. <http://www.marxist.com/universities-burning-student-mobilisations-austria.htm>.

Trausmuth, Gernot. "Austria: Spring Awakening in Vienna – 15.000 March against the Crisis." World Socialist Web Site. International Committee of the Fourth International, 31 Mar. 2009. Web. <http://www.marxist.com/austria-spring-awakening-in-vienna.htm>.

Additional Notes: 
The campaign was very decentralized, and largely relied on the Internet for communication between groups at different universities. While many groups employed similar methods, these were determined by students from individual universities, and not a central, organizing body.
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Danny Hirschel-Burns, 20/02/2011