In universities, digitization has been a subject of teaching, research and administration since the beginning of the 1990s, with the shift to remote operation forced by the corona pandemic, there has recently been a significant boost. Based on the digital action plan of Economics Minister Margarete Schramböck (ÖVP), the topic should be further promoted: a digital university strategy for research, teaching and administration should be developed by fall 2030.
It should address the question of what teaching formats universities are taking with them from the pandemic in regular operations and what study programs are needed to better meet the needs of students, said Minister of Education Martin Polaschek (ÖVP) at a joint conference. Monday press conference. This involves, for example, the delayed broadcasting of lectures or the at least partially digital participation in courses. It would also be conceivable for students to take individual courses digitally at a university abroad. In the field of research, this applies to the digital exchange of research data and the joint and location-independent use of digital research infrastructure, according to Polaschek.
In the field of administration, this should be the use of digital identity, for example by means of digital certificates. Within the EU, secondary school graduates should also be able to enroll in any university in Europe without having to travel there, according to Schramböck, whose ministry supports cross-departmental projects with a digitization fund of 160 millions of euros. Universities play an important role for them in global digitization, stressed Schramböck, who described them as “incubators of innovation”. However, digitization is not a foolproof success here either, you have to work hard at it.
The Corona pandemic as a “boost”
The corona pandemic has not only given a “boost” to the digitization of universities, as Claudia Von der Linden of the Digitization Forum of the University Conference (uniko) conceded. It has also increased some resistance in universities – for example when warnings are given about the move to distance learning universities regarding digital education. Here it is important to determine the benefits for those affected. At the same time, Corona has raised expectations among students for digital courses, which, for example, make it easier to reconcile study and work. At his university, the reaction was that the statutes gave teachers the freedom to decide what percentage of a course they wanted to take digitally, according to the vice-rector for digitalization at the Technical University (TU) of Graz.
In practice, however, Polaschek sees limitations, for example when broadcasting lectures. With the large number of courses it is also a question of costs, with formats such as seminars there are also didactic problems. It is up to the universities to consider where and to what extent they offer digital education and also whether, for example, digital courses from other universities (including foreign ones) should be included in the offer.
In the uniko, the new digital strategy should be supported, among other things, by thinking about common solutions to system problems that affect all universities – for example in research data management, open science, teaching and learning or in the field of administration, where there are not 22 different According to Von der Linden, there is a need for e-recruitment and appointment management solutions.
Call for “(digital) research infrastructure” projects
Universities must now develop proposals for a digital transformation of universities by 2030 in dialogue forums, and these are to be incorporated into a strategy document by the ministry this summer. The new digital strategy for universities will be presented in the fall.
This year, the Ministry of Education is also making €40 million available for “(digital) research infrastructure” through a tender, at least part of which comes from the Recovery and Resilience Facility of the EU. Funding is provided, among other things, for the extension, modernization or new acquisition of digital research infrastructures as well as access to European and international research infrastructures. These can be high-resolution digital microscopes or supercomputers.
The next rector of the University of Vienna wants to “stay the course”
In any case, the art historian Sebastian Schütze, who will succeed Heinz Engl at the University of Vienna from October, wants to “maintain and pursue with dynamism the great course of the University of Vienna: the excellence in research and internationalization”. At the same time, it considers it a social duty to “give enough space” to its role as a major training university with 90,000 students. Schütze also takes the so-called “third mission” of universities very seriously.
Schütze pointed out in an interview with APA that he had a very international research career behind him, taught with great enthusiasm and supervised many young scientists. Moreover, it has always been important to him that his research results not only reach the specialized public, but also have an impact beyond. He also presented them in the form of international exhibitions and worked on many major exhibitions. “I think this approach of doing research internationally, but also integrating it into society and communicating it to wider circles, is an important and positive experience for the new office.” Today, people are inundated with information. “It is all the more important to communicate fundamental aspects of research in a meaningful way and at different levels so that they can reach different communities,” he said, campaigning for the “third mission “universities.
At the University of Vienna, his election automatically brings more visibility to the humanities and cultural sciences, according to the current dean of the Faculty of Historical and Cultural Studies. However, he resolved to be a “very fair, very balanced rector” who develops all areas of the university, like outgoing rector Heinz Engl.
For other “no action needed” access restrictions
Schütze does not see the need for new access restrictions in overcrowded subjects, at least acutely, there are currently 20 subjects with admission procedures at the University of Vienna. “I don’t think there is a direct need for action – also because we have seen that during the Covid crisis the number of first year students has grown very dynamically and also very unpredictably. “Schuetze said. In some subjects, for example, there was a sharp increase in numbers in the first Covid year and a sharp drop in numbers in the second year. “I think we are currently on the right track with the measures that have been taken.”
For the future rector, it is already foreseeable that in the months or years to come at the University of Vienna “the budget could also become difficult if we think of the inflation rates, the collateral effects of the Ukrainian crisis or even to the subsequent consequences of the Covid crisis”. “. It is clear that higher energy prices will also mean higher costs for the university. He therefore also supports the request of the University Conference to the Ministry of Education to reimburse these costs. It is too early to assess where savings could be made at the University of Vienna if the ministry does not increase the budget.
What Schütze’s team will look like in the vice-rectorate is not yet certain. “We are still in the middle of the talks.” In any case, the central criterion for nomination is that all subject groups with their very different perspectives and needs are represented and involved in central decisions. “Of course” the gender balance must also be maintained. (apa)