Since 22 October around two thousand students and university staff have been occupying several parts of the main university in Vienna, demanding an end to restrictive admissions practices, tuition fees, and the marketisation of education. Their action has swept across Austria, with seven universities now occupied around the country.
Students and workers are fighting the Bologna process — a process of standardisation across the whole of European higher education, which seeks to reorganise the university sector as a selective, expensive, two-tier system. What began as a protest against the reorganisation of degrees into two categories (bachelor’s and master’s), has broadened out into a mass movement against an elitist, anti-democratic, neoliberal style of education.
The protestors’ demands are radical and uncompromising: the abolition of all fees for EU students and foreign students, an end to precarious working conditions for university staff, the removal of all restrictions to education, free access to master’s degrees, and the full democratisation of all universities.
These demands go further than funding, or administration of education, and fundamentally challenge the organisation of universities in a neoliberal system. They challenge the conception of education as a commodity that can be produced in a factory for learning, and then sold on the open market. They challenge the idea that institutions can be run by a hierarchy of unelected bosses and managers.
Students and workers in Austria are fighting for better education, but they are also creating a better world in the bloated corpse of the old — the occupation in Vienna “is a place where current educational questions are discussed in open working groups and presented to the public in regular basic democratic plenary sessions.” No struggle against cuts, against fees, or against university management can succeed unless it poses an alternative way to run education — no struggle can succeed unless it points towards a better world in every one of its demands, and in every one of its actions.
• English-language website: emancipating-education-for-all.org/content/academy-arts-vienna-occupied
• German-language website: www.malen-nach-zahlen.at