The rector of the Danube University Krems on education reform, collaboration along the river and the benefits of studying in the countryside.
It’s easy to understand why people would want to study here. From the rolling hills coated in vineyards to the petite village streets of Krems an der Donau, the surroundings are idyllic. In a marriage of modern and historic architecture, the Campus of the Danube University Krems is Austria’s only university dedicated to adult education. The average student is 39 years old.
Amid the peacefully chirping birds and fresh country air, Friedrich Faulhammer has been leading the university since 2013. He is a great believer in the power of these surroundings to bring out the best in students, particularly as most of them a end alongside a full-time job. They commute for weekend and evening classes, as well as completing parts of the courses online.
Since finishing his law degree, the Viennese native has been instrumental in far-reaching education reforms. “The Universities used to be – just as schools still are – subordinate offices of the State. Educators were civil servants and wore a very tight legal corset,” explained Faulhammer. “The curricula were defined and rarely updated, leaving little room for interpretation.”
In 1990 he began working at the Ministry of Science, just in time to work on the founding of Austria’s vocational schools and bring the country’s universities into the 21st century.
In 1995, Austria introduced vocational schools (Fachhochschulen) into the mix. One was opened on the Danube University Campus, the IMC University of Applied Sciences.
The 2002 reform opened up Austria’s public universities, giving them freedom to adapt to the needs of their students, the faculty and society at large.
“At grade schools, we’re still discussing the need for more autonomy and freedom for schools to face their own challenges, which differ depending on whether the school is in Vienna or Vorarlberg.”
In 2013, he took the job as Rector at the Danube University Krems with a new vision for the Institution. “I saw the various opportunities for shaping the future at universities and being part of designing that here was very attractive.”
The university is unique in Austria. “We direct our programs at people who already have substantial work experience,” he explained, building courses and research programs based on skills that are needed today.
Despite being outside of the main education hubs in Austria’s cities, a quarter of the roughly 9,000 students come from abroad, hailing from 90 different nations. The university offers 25 degree programs in English and has a very international faculty, with most of the adjunct professors from outside Austria.
Faulhammer is also a passionately active member of the Danube Rector’s Conference, a network of over 70 Universities along the river, encompassing 10 countries and vast political, societal and budgetary differences. Founded in Austria 40 years ago when the Iron Curtain was still dividing the continent, the conference has worked to overcome barriers of language, tradition and politics while bridging gaps in educational and research standards. “Streamlining the qualifications of young scientists between the East and West along the Danube is one of our most important goals.”
In Germany, the standards are competitive, said Faulhammer, “but the further you venture down the Danube the more difficult it gets. It’s hard for them in research because they simply don’t have the financial resources.” This remains one of the greatest challenges for Europe today. The policy makers don’t have an easy me of it either. “It’s a phenomenon we have to deal with in Europe,” Faulhammer explained. “The more we strive for excellence in research, the more we support the brain drain in the other countries. Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia are facing the difficult that highly dedicated scientists leave,” Faulhammer shook his head. “And we support that with EU funding.”
The Rector’s Conference has taken on this problem by lobbying in Brussels to develop competitive programs in these countries and also ensure that once they finish, students will be able to find jobs at home.
Having helped unleash the stagnated university system, Faulhammer wants to promote excellence and ground-breaking research all along the river, starting from the ideas and minds being shaped in Krems on the Danube.
FRIEDRICH FAULHAMMER’S KREMS TIPS IN JUNE
The region was named world cultural heritage site in 2000. “We have this combination of University and heritage. That may sound old-fashioned, but brings together cultural heritage and the science of the future. To discover the castles, ruins and natural phenomena, check out the hiking tracks across the Danube valley.
Every year, the Europa-Forum takes place atop this picturesque Mountain in the Gottweig Abbey, sometimes called Austria’s Montecassino. This year it takes place on the June 15-16. “Unlike the European Forum in Alpbach, this is just about Europe, current development and future plans.”
As Vienna dons its finest for the Fete Imperial and bears its true colors for the Life Ball, the Wachau has it’s own Campus Ball, a regular who’s who of the region, bringing together big names in politics, academia culture and business for an indoor/outdoor event. This year it takes place on June 16.
“There is something special about being this close to Vienna, with access to state-of-the- art laboratories and libraries, and having vineyards right at your door.” Faulhammer says students often take walks in the vineyards for inspiration and relaxation. Austrian Wine Marketing offers an overview of the winemakers in the region.