The current Austrian government has been extremely negligent regarding education in general, and the universities in particular. Various cutbacks and the treatment of universities as privately operated entities have left everything in shambles.
Now, I don’t know what people in the rest of the world do, but in Austria, when things are tumbling down and getting worse and worse, politicians simply move on. They don’t care about the fact that the majority of university workers and students oppose their ideas, and the fact that they’ve pushed through their reforms solely with the help of their stooges positioned high up in the universities’ management. So the Austrian government decided to create something they themselves dubbed a “University of Excellence”.
What is all that about? Doesn’t Austria have quite a few universities already? So why create another one? Why not invest the money into already existing infrastructure? Maybe because they let the whole infrastructure bleed to death by continuously cutting funding? Or because they feel they need more hubris in order to compete? Whatever it may be, they decided to create the “Austrian Institute for Science and Technology” (Only hard science of course. There’s no real value in, say, excellence in history, right?).
Fortunately enough, the current federal minster responsible for education, Elisabeth Gehrer (the text is in German, because the ministry of education is unable to translate their website any farther down than one level from the main page), is so incompetent, she manages to trip over her own feet. After choosing the site of an old mental institute, infamous for instances of NS euthanasia [pdf], as the site for the institute, Physicist Anton Zeilinger decided to quit his function as chief academic adviser for the project (followed by the other two major advisers). Now Gehrer is stuck with this crazy idea, and doesn’t know whether to move back or forth. Recent idiocy includes the ministry’s inability to find a suitable name. Christening the whole thing “Wittgenstein Institute of Technology” (a cheap move, considering that that would have spelled WIT, evoking associations with the MIT) turned out to be a bad idea, because Wittgenstein relatives soon complained that nobody had asked them about it and demanded from the ministry to remove their name from the institute (the ministry had also not considered that Wittgenstein wasn’t even involved in hard science or technology).
And finally, Austrian scientists working abroad have now urged the government to rethink the whole thing.
Well, another project our government will soon be presenting as yet another great success!