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A lot of foreign students in the last years and decades wondered how the Austrian educational system works: everybody, after passing their Matura (A-levels or anything comparable to it) was allowed to study at Austrian Universities. Except for some studies (like medicine, where there always were knock-out exams at the start to filter the masses of aspirants), all studies were open to everybody. And nobody had to pay a cent of tuition fees.

Now, it’s no wonder that everybody asked themselves how this could work. And of course, it doesn’t.

Last year, the public was informed that – amongst others – the University of Technology in Vienna was nearly broke. Students and professors got together to find ways to help the University. Government did nothing. And the University … found ways to lessen the number of students, because “it’s the students who cause most costs”. Also, this way, the professor-student ratio would be improved to a level closer to international standards.

Now how does that work?

The Department for Informatics, the first one to completely run out of money, and also the one I’m studying at, was the first to invent the so-called “Eingangstests”, which nothing else but exams to filter the “too much” of students. 700 people sign up for the 5 kinds of IT studies at UTV every year –  but there is only space (= money) for 375. But instead of having one test to check all required skills and knowledge at the beginning of the semester, there are several tests: one for each course. And they happen 4-6 weeks after the semester has started – so if you discover that either you don’t like IT enough to study it, or you just don’t manage to pass the exam, there’s no way of changing to another study now. You just lost one semester.

This set-up cut down inscriptions by about 10 % (guessing from the number of people who signed up for a 1st-semester course I’m attending). Also, it decreases the motivation for many a student extremely: for example, in one week, there were 3 exams to prepare for. One of them happened Monday morning, 7 am. Over 200 people decided not to partake in that exam and rather focus on the other two (or one of them).

Congratulations, Mr Steinhart (our dean, who had the brilliant idea of Eingangstests). Your system seems to work. Also, government decided to legalise these exams and allowing for other Universities and other fields of study to implement them, too.

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