Austria's education minister, Elisabeth Gehrer, proposed on Monday that universities be given more control over their finances and that their decision-making committees be streamlined.
One of the main aims of the plan presented to the cabinet is to more clearly delineate responsibility within each university. Now, most decisions are made by committees composed of administrators, professors and students, so the sense of responsibility is diffused "like snowflakes in an avalanche," said Ronald Zecha, a spokesman for the Education Ministry.
Currently, a typical Austrian university has more than 200 committees, made up of more than 2,000 educators and 400 students. Under the new proposal, responsibility for major decisions would be shared by the rector, a five-member university council, and a university senate that would consist of 12 to 24 members.
While the details have not been worked out, the current proposal calls for each council to have two members appointed by the Education Ministry, two appointed by the university senate, and a final member selected by the other four members. Students are expected to make up one-fourth of senates, with faculty members holding the remaining positions.
Financial decision-making also would be shifted to the 18 state-run universities, rather than remaining in the hands of the federal government.
Another goal of the plan is to enhance the status of Austria's universities and make them more competitive internationally in education and research.
To help attain that, the Education Ministry is proposing the universities develop specialties, rather than all offering a vast array of subjects, so that resources can be focused on particular schools.
The measures proposed in the plan will be expanded upon in another ministry paper to be released early next month, and then a draft law is expected to be drawn up by November. The ministry hopes a new law will be in place by early 2002.
The Austrian Students' Union has come out against the proposed changes, saying that they will dilute students' role in the decision-making process.
But the Austrian Rectors' Conference has welcomed the changes. "We would like to be independent entities so that we have our own budgets" and have more control over personnel decisions, said Georg Winckler, head of the conference.