The Austrian Student Union (ÖH) elections have kicked off, with nine factions competing for the student vote from May 10-12. The main goal of the election is to increase voter turnout and ensure that student voices are heard on important issues affecting them.
The current ruling coalition is composed of the red students, Greens and Alternative Students (Grass) and is focused on issues such as housing and social security, climate crisis, and safe spaces for women, intersex, non-binary, trans, or agender people. However, the top candidates from the various factions hold differing views on tuition fees, which has become a key issue in this election.
Some factions are calling for the abolition of tuition fees, while others are advocating for the introduction of subsequent tuition fees, capped at 500 euros per semester. The left-wing parties (red students, VSStÖ and Grass) are opposed to the other factions that are calling for the abolition of the ÖH’s general political mandate and the focus on service provision for students, rather than ideological struggles.
The Junos, the student organization of the Neos, are the only faction calling for the introduction of tuition fees, with universities able to set their own amount. However, these fees would only be payable once the student has finished their studies and is earning enough. The Junos also want to promote the use of artificial intelligence at universities and more practical relevance in courses.
The Aktionsgemeinschaft (AG), which has the most votes in the current parliament, is aiming to make amends for its third-place finish in the previous election. Top candidate Muhammed Durmaz wants to abolish tuition fees for working people, but raise the additional income limit to €20,000 per year. The working group also calls for a departure from the ÖH’s general political mandate and for more service provision for students.
The independent student council lists of Austria (FLÖ) are also running in the elections and calling for professional contact points in the case of discrimination at universities, a free choice of pronouns, and training for university staff. The FLÖ, along with the red students and Grass, form the current coalition in the student parliament.
The student factions are fighting to increase voter turnout, with differing views on the role of the ÖH, the introduction of tuition fees, and the focus on service provision or ideological struggles. The election is seen as crucial in determining the direction of the ÖH and its ability to represent the diverse interests of Austrian students.
It remains to be seen which faction will emerge victorious in the elections and what impact their policies will have on the ÖH and the student body at large. Nonetheless, the election has brought to the forefront critical issues that need to be addressed to ensure that students are equipped to face the challenges of the future.