April 02, 2012

New Austrian Law Secures Status of Student Ombuds

On March 1, 2012, the Austria's federal legislature passed the Act on the External Quality Assurance in Higher Education establishing a Student Ombudsmen (Ombudsstelle für Studierende). The new law, which took ten years to enact, ensures that the Student Ombudsman will be an independent and confidential resource for all students in higher education. Josef Leidenfrost, who has served as the Student Ombudsman without the benefit of this legislation, was appointed to the the new position. A new website for the Student Ombudsman has also gone online.

Here is the relevant portion of the new law:
Section 8 
Student Ombudsman 
§ 31. (1) An office that is not bound by any instructions and provides ombuds services, information, and other services for students at higher education institutions shall be established at the Federal Ministry of Science and Research. Hereinafter students also mean persons interested in beginning a degree programme as well as former students.
         (2) The student ombudsman shall provide information and services in the area of higher education on the topics and cases it is concerned with. For this matter, it shall collaborate with the student representatives and shall periodically organise events for the purpose of sharing information with institutions that deal with matters relevant to students.
         (3) Each student shall have the right to turn to the student ombudsman for information and advice on matters related to degree programmes, teaching, examinations, services, and administration at higher education institutions. Each such inquiry shall be dealt with by the student ombudsman. The student and the educational institution shall be informed about the results as well as, if applicable, any measures taken.
         (4) The student ombudsman shall have the right to request information from the respective bodies and members of the educational institutions concerning the matters brought forward by students. The bodies and members of the educational institutions shall be obliged to provide the student ombudsman with the requested information in the matters it deals with.
         (5) The student ombudsman can act as an advisor to the bodies of the educational institution.
         (6) The student ombudsman shall be bound to observe confidentiality with regard to all facts and information that come to its attention exclusively as a result of its activities.
         (7) The student ombudsman shall annually prepare a report on its activities. The report for the preceding academic year shall be submitted to the competent Federal Minister and the National Council by 15 December of each year at the latest. The report shall be published.
Leidenfrost has organized meetings of the European Network for Ombudsmen in Higher Education (ENOHE) since at least 2006. He will be a speaker at the IOA 2012 conference. (Bundesgesetzblatt für die Republik Österreich; Austrian Student Ombudsman.)

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