Chapter 3. Leadership and governance in Austrian higher education institutions

This chapter focuses on the “leadership and governance” dimension of the HEInnovate Guiding Framework, as it applies to the case of Austria. This review clearly identified that national and regional authorities, as well as higher education institution (HEI) leaders, have made the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda their priority. Indeed, Austrian higher education institutions play a very active and substantial role in the development of their economic, social and cultural surroundings. Many show clear strengths in terms of their commitment to the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda. However, the review identified a need to introduce more flexible governance mechanisms and specific initiatives to strengthen the organisational capacity of institutions. This should promote their collaboration and engagement activities in the context of advancing the national entrepreneurial and innovation agenda. The chapter assesses all these issues and provides Austrian authorities with some recommendations.



The entrepreneurial and innovation agenda facilitates greater interaction between HEIs, state agencies, industry, businesses and regional communities. Being embedded in these regional coalitions, Austrian HEIs generate value in terms of specific skills and knowledge products adding to the productivity and competitiveness of local businesses. Although Austria is a relatively small country, its regional diversity is noteworthy. For example, a high density of manufacturing small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) exists in Tyrol and Upper Austria. These regions together provide a large share of Austria’s exports. The region of Styria is the home of the Austrian automotive industry and has different social and economic structures compared with the rest of the country. Other regions are more rural and less connected at an international level. However, due to urban sprawl, some of these regions have been affected by population increases and are gravitating towards the main metropolitan functional regions (OECD, forthcoming).

The Austrian higher education system has consistently recognised the need to become more entrepreneurial and innovative with a view to supporting the economic, social and cultural development of their regions and the country. For example, Austria is an early adopter – and an international benchmark – of universities of applied sciences (UAS), which are providing science-driven, practically oriented higher education and application-oriented research. UAS complement the public universities offering of scientific research and research-oriented education.

The architects of the development of Austrian higher education policy recognise that strong leadership, good governance and adaptive organisational capacity are crucial to developing an entrepreneurial and innovative culture within the higher education system, including in higher education institutions. As a result, the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research agreed to participate in the second round of HEInnovate country reviews and had a particular interest in identifying ways to develop the leadership and governance capacity of HEIs with a view to enhancing their entrepreneurial and innovative capacity.

As discussed in Chapter 1, in recent years, Austria has been implementing a series of reforms in important areas of the higher education system. These include a new university funding model, the performance agreements with public universities and research, development and innovation (RDI) programmes focused on directing and supporting HEIs towards the development of a more entrepreneurial, innovation culture within their organisations (EC, 2018; OECD, 2017).

The Austrian HEInnovate national review seeks to identify systems and approaches to help shape the management and governance model in Austrian higher education institutes with a view to:

  • raising awareness of the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda

  • strengthening university interactions with businesses and society

  • identifying what is required to facilitate the system, to do more in terms of engagement and entrepreneurial activity.

In order to provide recommendations to the national review group, this study employed the statements of the HEInnovate leadership and governance dimension below and described in more detail in Chapter 1, above, as the basis for enquiry.

  • Entrepreneurship is a major part of the HEI’s strategy.

  • There is commitment at a high level to implementing the entrepreneurial agenda.

  • There is a model in place for co-ordinating and integrating entrepreneurial activities across the HEI.

  • The HEI encourages and supports faculties and units to act entrepreneurially.

  • The HEI is a driving force for entrepreneurship and innovation in regional, social and community development.

Along with the above statements, the review process has also investigated some elements of the HEInnovate organisational capacity and impact assessment dimensions as they support and compliment aspects of the leadership and governance dimension. The remainder of this chapter explores the views presented by various stakeholders in relation to the above themes, in the context of examples of good practice and achievements, key challenges, recommendations and learning models for consideration.

Review findings

In terms of delivering on the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda within the Austrian higher education system, this review identified significant existing strengths and achievements in terms of leadership and governance. In particular, national, regional and HEIs stakeholders are implementing remarkable efforts to improve the level of co-operation within the system.

There is interest and support from external stakeholders in developing engaged HEIs

There is clearly an interest from state agencies and industry to have HEIs engaged in the entrepreneurial and innovative agenda. One important strength observed is the commitment of federal ministries, government agencies – such as the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) and the Austrian federal promotional bank (AWS), among others – and other external stakeholder groups, including business representatives, to the positive development of the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda in Austrian HEIs. Government agencies along with the private sector commit significant resources in support of this endeavour in a clear partnership-oriented approach.

In general, all actors in the higher education system have a positive perception of external agency interaction and industry/business interaction with HEIs. There are several examples of the importance of external agencies to the development of HEIs capacity to respond to local needs. These range from the support received – in particular, by UAS – from chambers of commerce in the development of programmes reflecting regional skills needs to the role of regional development agencies such as in Tyrol in supporting the local HEIs in their innovation activities.

Senior management support the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda

Across the higher education (HE) sector in Austria, the senior management has played an important role in embedding and supporting the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda within HEIs. In all of the HEIs visited, there was a clear understanding among the management teams of the need to deliver on the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda and to embed it in institutional strategies. In several institutions, rectorates were directly involved in leading and rolling out their institute’s entrepreneurial and innovation strategy. The modalities of engagement may change. In some institutions, there is a particular focus on start-ups and spin-offs. In others, the engagement agenda is more diverse and encompasses social activities. In general, however, there are many good practices of what being an entrepreneurial and innovative HEI means in practice.

Rationales behind engagement may also vary. Some of the public universities have responded to the “trigger” of the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research in the previous round of performance agreements, which included a first reference to engagement, and specifically to the HEInnovate framework to be used to create and improve institutional processes and organisational capacity to support and sustain the entrepreneurial and innovative agenda.

Several HEIs utilise central support structures to drive the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda closely linked to and often championed by senior management. This allows for institute-wide access spanning all faculties and department boundaries. In other instances, rectorates use their autonomy to: i) provide seed-investment in support of innovative pilot initiatives; ii) create technology transfer offices; and iii) secure partial ownership of incubators.

In other HEIs, very committed individuals have been successful in building boundary-spanning networks that have increased the visibility of and commitment for the entrepreneurial and innovative agenda across faculties (e.g. University of Vienna and BOKU). The University of Innsbruck is an example of how much positive influence the rector can have and, in the case of the Vienna University of Economics and Business, entrepreneurship is widely embedded.

Good practice examples include FH Campus Wien, Graz University of Technology, FH Upper Austria, the University of Innsbruck and the Management Centre Innsbruck. The specific approaches of the University of Innsbruck and the Graz University of Technology are discussed in Box 3.1 below.

Box 3.1. Examples of good strategic planning and senior management support for the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda in Austria

Graz University of Technology

In the Graz University of Technology, overall responsibility for the implementation of one of the university’s key strategic projects, the Entrepreneurial University, lies with the rector and is supported by several vice rectors. The focus of the project, which is recognised in their 2016-18 performance agreement with the federal ministry, is on:

  • Development of entrepreneurship education activities.

  • Development of incentives and support infrastructure to promote the expansion of entrepreneurial and innovation activity in the university.

  • Improving awareness and communication of available opportunities, activities and supports in the entrepreneurship and innovation arena.

The project is supported by a dedicated funding stream and has seen some notable new initiatives emerge during the course of its implementation, including:

  • The creation of a new Maker Space, the largest in Austria, opened in 2018.

  • Setting up the Start-up Garage programme for student entrepreneurs.

  • Launching of entrepreneur training programmes with the regional chamber of commerce for students and alumni.

  • The development of the Hidden Champions Recruitment Fair promoting employment opportunities in start-ups and SMEs to Graz University of Technology students.

  • The creation of the TU Austria Innovation Marathon, at the Graz University of Technology.

University of Innsbruck

With the direct support of the rector, the university has established a Projekt.service.büro in 2000. The aim of this office is to support researchers in third-party funding acquisition and classical technology transfer activities (patenting, licencing). In addition, in 2016, the University of Innsbruck also founded the Transfer Centre for Science, Economy and Society, responsible for industry collaboration, knowledge transfer to society, spin-off support, equity management, as well as alumni work and career services. These two departments, located in the same office, work closely together and provide a full-service package regarding third-mission activities to all researchers. The University of Innsbruck is also the owner of a university holding, which has shares in more than 15 commercial spin-offs and provides support to founders as well as the CEOs of already established spin-offs. In 2016, the InnCubator, an entrepreneurship centre run together with the local chamber of commerce, was founded. The InnCubator offers co-working spaces, an incubation programme as well as a large maker’s space for easy prototyping.

Examples include:

  • Providing seed funding for new “ideas”.

  • Found-Her Ideen finden Macherinnen, a programme to support women who want to become entrepreneurs. This is an important issue in Austria, because women are underrepresented in scientific careers and among entrepreneurs.

  • Helping with patenting and Intellectual Property Rights.

  • Providing consultancy services to start-ups.

The transfer centre can use some of its revenues as seed funds for new and emerging innovative ideas and projects. This provides the centre with independence from other internal or external funding sources. In addition, both departments offer tailored services to students and staff, responding to needs in quick and flexible ways.

Interdisciplinary approaches in education and research

Technological progress and international competition are among the main drivers affecting economies and labour markets in OECD and non-OECD economies. Within this context, individuals need to develop transversal skills and the capacity to operate in a complex environment, with limited information. In other words, they often need to be creative to solve problems. Entrepreneurial and innovative HEIs can play a pivotal role in providing students with these transversal skills they can acquire in interdisciplinary curricula.

In Austria, all the case-study HEIs recognised this shift in skills development requirements and the need to move away from fragmented, discipline-specific silo structures. Some HEIs have been developing innovative organisation frameworks to facilitate interdisciplinary co-operation and cross-fertilisation. These holistic frameworks tend to counterbalance the forces pushing towards fragmentation.

HEIs have also been promoting interdisciplinary curricula in teaching and researching. The following sections provide some detailed information about the way in which Austrian HEIs have organised themselves to generate multidimensional teaching and research activities, connecting different thematic areas. The aim is to give students the possibility to attend programmes that are more comprehensive. In addition, research can benefit from connecting different scientific areas, including by generating new disciplines.

Interdisciplinary education programmes

Several HEIs have adopted integrated organisation systems in teaching activities. The University of Vienna has put in place “extension curricula” (Erweiterungscurricula) and “alternative extensions” (Alternative Erweiterungen) to give students the possibility to attend classes in different study programmes and faculties. In the same vein, at the University of Innsbruck, some curricula are based on “modules”, which can be formed by mixing disciplines/programmes. The FH Campus Wien enhances interdisciplinary teaching and learning via open lectures in which different faculties collaborate.

These examples illustrate that several Austrian institutions have understood the need to help new graduates develop the way they think between and beyond disciplines, and work with new combinations of interdisciplinary knowledge. Current efforts promoting interdisciplinary teaching activities are focused at the undergraduate level. Box 3.2, below, provides selected examples of these approaches.

Box 3.2. Enhancing interdisciplinary teaching using novel organisational frameworks

University of Vienna

At the University of Vienna, the majority of bachelor’s programmes and diploma programmes require students to complete their degree programme, including extension curricula (EC). An extension curriculum is a predefined module group comprising up to 30 ECTS credits. Almost all degree programmes offer extension curricula. This gives students the possibility to choose from a large range of extension curricula, outside of their degree programme.

Beside extension curricula, the University of Vienna provides students with the possibility to engage in alternative extensions (AE). Students have the possibility to complete alternative extensions comprising a maximum of 15 ECTS credits, instead of an extension curriculum (EC). Contrary to an EC, which is predefined, alternative extensions allow students to choose freely which courses or exams they want to complete as part of their degree programme. As a result, students can create their own modules based on their degree programme and other programmes.

University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU)

BOKU has put in place a mixed curriculum to help scientists develop skills in implementation (engineering) and management (economics). The university sees itself as an education and research institution dedicated to renewable resources with a vision of contributing significantly to the protection of existing natural resources for future generations. Hence, natural sciences, technology and socioeconomics are the three main disciplines delivered at the university. BOKU has a departmental organisational structure (15 departments) and a matrix organisation for study and research programmes with each of the 15 departments providing modules for multiple study and research programmes.

Each programme at bachelor level has four components of equal weight made up of modules from the three main disciplines natural sciences, technical sciences, economics and social sciences and the fourth component of the programme is made up of a mixture of the three main areas. The same philosophy applies to master’s programmes, the only difference being in the weighting applied to each component (15% for each main area and 55% for the variable component). This approach makes for a dialogue among the disciplines in terms of programme development and equips graduates with the skills needed to think between and beyond the limits of disciplines and work with new combinations of knowledge.

University of Applied Arts Vienna (Die Angewandte)

The University of Applied Arts Vienna (Die Angewandte) has organised an interdisciplinary curriculum to offer programmes focusing on complexity, in all its different forms. This programme aims to generate a mix of qualitative and quantitative skills in students and to prepare them to adopt a problem-solving approach to complex societal and economic issues.

Existing organisational mechanisms, national strategies and funding models, however, have not facilitated the creation of graduates with interdisciplinary skills. For example, to implement interdisciplinary approaches in public universities, there is the need for the approval of the academic senate, which may result in a lengthy and difficult development process. Similarly, in UAS, the process of considering the input from business and industry in the development of new programmes can also take a long time due to existing accreditation processes. In addition, UAS develop their programmes in response to “programmatic calls” from the Ministry of Education, Science and Research. The introduction of calls for interdisciplinary programmes may spur interdisciplinary programmes in vocational institutions.

In addition, and as flagged by national stakeholders, a specific kind of interdisciplinary education may involve an approach to better integrate Austrian colleges for higher vocational education (among them Höhere Technische Lehranstalten, HTL) with HEIs, to leverage on their capacity to generate entrepreneurial skills. Colleges for higher vocational education are considered short-term tertiary cycles (ISCED 5), but are not considered as higher education by the national system. Emerging international practices illustrate, for example, the possibility of integrating ISCED 5 education with (professional) higher education (ISCED 6), such as UAS, to address regional skills needs (Box 3.3).

Box 3.3. Integrating ISCED 5 professional education with ISCED 6 professional higher education

The experience of the Polytechnic of Turin

The Polytechnic of Turin, an Italian public university, is experimenting the possibility of generating pathways between ISCED level 5 HEIs, called technical higher institutions (Instituti Tecnici Superiori, ITS) and the “professional bachelor’s degree” (Laurea professionalizzante), which is a new degree (ISCED level 6) in universities, introduced in the academic year 2018/19.

The Polytechnic of Turin is an important regional actor. It co-operates with other institutional actors such as the regional government of Piedmont and the City of Turin. Taking advantage of its institutional capital, the polytechnic has been co-ordinating a regional roundtable to discuss the harmonisation of ITS curricula with its new professional bachelor’s degree. The round table involves all the regional ITS specialised in manufacturing vocational education and training (VET), regional and local authorities, and other stakeholders, such as the regional branch of the national industrialist association, Confindustria.

Regional ITS involved in this policy dialogue should update their curricula to make them modular with the professional bachelor’s degree offered by the Polytechnic of Turin. This will allow ITS graduates who want to get a professional bachelor’s to attend only one final year at the Polytechnic of Turin.

In addition, the Polytechnic of Turin will co-operate with ITS to give its students access to ITS technical laboratories. Most ITS are equipped with modern laboratories provided by firms co-operating with ITS, to form individuals that are able to plug in immediately in their production processes. To achieve this result, firms have provided ITS with modern machinery tools that the institutions can use to train students. Thus, by co-operating with ITS, the polytechnic gains access to their facilities.

The Italian experience illustrates the possibility of integrating professional education at ISCED 5 and 6. The aim is twofold: streamline educational pathways and provide individuals with the possibility to move from one education ladder to another; generate new skills that will help local firms be more innovative and productive.

Source: OECD (forthcoming), Supporting Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Higher Education in Italy, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Interdisciplinary research

Efforts to embrace interdisciplinary approaches also include research activities carried out in Austrian HEIs. There are several examples in which researchers are encouraged to leave the “comfort zone” represented by their own discipline and contribute to research groups encompassing different faculties.

These efforts have generated novel organisational structures within universities. For instance, large universities such as the University of Vienna, have created new “research platforms” that encompass several faculties. Smaller universities, such as BOKU, implement interdisciplinary research by promoting the shared use of scientific equipment. In addition, at BOKU, doctoral students from different disciplines can interact and generate shared research programme. Finally, the interdisciplinary approach is also at the basis of the creation of the Complexity Science Hub Vienna (Box 3.4).

Box 3.4. Enhancing interdisciplinary research activities using novel organisational frameworks

University of Vienna

The rectorate at the Vienna University promotes innovative, interdisciplinary research collaborations through the establishment and funding of “research platforms”. The initiative is open for academics and research groups from various disciplines and faculties to submit an interdisciplinary project in response to competitive calls. The calls have no set topic and applications are reviewed by an international panel. These platforms are set up for a duration of four years.

University of Graz

The University of Graz explicitly funds and supports “unconventional research” and interdisciplinary research efforts. Thus, regarding its organisational capacity, University of Graz offers a master’s programme in innovation and a number of professorial chairs are dedicated to the innovation topic. This is the case of a new professorial chair for technology and innovation law (the appointment procedure is currently ongoing) or a chair for innovation and transition research or innovative teaching design.

Endowed professorships are a new and important instrument for strengthening Styria’s position as a research and business location. The regional government grants funding to outstanding (young) scientists working in highly innovative interdisciplinary research fields and using new teaching concepts. The aim is to create a “Styrian Science Space”.

This funding model, which has been piloted in Styria, requires that a second institution acts as a partner, provides a strong incentive for co-operation and has attracted interest throughout Austria. The funding is not restricted to specific subjects and can support all scientific disciplines.

University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU)

The organisational structure of BOKU, which is set in a development plan, follows an interdisciplinary approach. Research and teaching in the 15 departments are organised according to problems and processes, demanding the creation of interdisciplinary platforms. These platforms depend on solid disciplinary scientific competencies, comprising eight broad “fields of competencies” across BOKU. In general, research and teaching at BOKU follow the “three-pillar-principle”, enabling interlinking of natural sciences, engineering and socioeconomics.

The Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Inspired by the Santa Fe Institute in the United States, the Complexity Science Hub Vienna (CSH) was founded in 2015. Founding members of CSH were the Technical Universities of Vienna and Graz, the Medical University of Vienna and the Austrian Institute of Technology AIT. By 2019, the hub has gained four more members: Vienna University of Economics and Business, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the Danube University Krems and the Austrian Chamber of Commerce (WKO).

The idea behind the hub is that by interacting with each other, elements within systems mutate. These interactions change the components and the system. Tools and methods developed by complexity scientists help understand the dynamics of co-evolving complex systems. CSH scientists and affiliates are dedicated to making sense of complexity through data analysis (Big Data) in ways that are valuable for science and society.

The CSH operates within an international network of renowned international complexity science institutions, such as the Santa Fe Institute, the NTU Singapore Complexity Institute, the Arizona State University, and Institute of Advanced Studies Amsterdam. The constant exchange stimulates an optimal flow of ideas and people, who work together on the most pressing questions of our times (

Despite the good practices, there are still challenges facing HEIs that want to set up interdisciplinary research activities. This is a shared challenge in all academic research systems, not only in Austria. For example, the incentive system supporting research favours specialisation rather than interdisciplinary approaches. Peer reviewing favours the creation of homogenous scientific communities, which represent silo structures. The Complexity Hub is an attempt to overcome this structural challenge. There also remains the problem of the sustainability of funding for this holistic approach to basic research.

Strategic collaboration between higher education institutions and with other entities

In Austria, there are several examples in which HEIs have engaged in strategic collaboration with their peers to promote teaching, research and engagement activities. Significant HEI-HEI collaborations were also observed to exist at a regional level and for the benefit of regional development. There are several examples of these strategic collaborations, including the following:

  • The Science Space Styria, which encompasses five public universities, two universities of applied science and two colleges of education into a regional network of HEIs. This regional platform co-ordinates initiatives among HEIs and capitalises on synergies. The aim is to make Styria a location for science and research activities.

  • The Vienna Children’s University is an important example of collaboration among HEIs focusing on scientific communication. In the Children’s University, children can experience the university by attending lectures and workshops, getting in touch with scientists, planning a curriculum and even graduating. Since 2003, several Vienna-based HEIs have opened their doors to more than 4 000 children aged 7 to 12, during 2 summer weeks. To date, the institutions participating in this initiative are the University of Vienna, the Medical University of Vienna, the Technical University of Vienna, the Vienna University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, the University of Veterinary Medicine, the FH Campus Wien and the Vienna University of Economics and Business.

  • Collaboration between the Salzburg-based universities to pool together teaching activities. In particular, students for the Paracelsus Medical University (PMU) can attend some classes, including chemistry, physics and biology at the University of Salzburg. In addition, the PMU and the University of Salzburg (Natural Sciences), with the support of the University Clinics of the Province, are involved in a strategic programme to promote the regional specialisation in the Life Science Sector.

  • The NAWI programme in Graz depends on the collaboration between two Graz-based HEIs, which have joined forces to provide students and researchers with interdisciplinary curricula and programmes. After more than a decade, the two universities have integrated the joint programme into their core budget. The collaboration has spurred a series of research partnerships and other interactions between the two HEIs (Box 3.5).

Box 3.5. Collaboration between HEIs

The NAWI programme in Graz, Austria

In 2004, the Graz Technical University and the University of Graz decided to harmonise their scientific disciplines in both institutions, generating a joint venture. The goal was to place scientific teaching and research at an international level and so NAWI Graz was established, a strategic co-operation in the natural sciences. It covers five subject areas: bioscience; chemistry; earth, space and environmental sciences; mathematics; and physics. Initially with a focus just on teaching, its aims have subsequently broadened significantly to include research. Currently, it involves a significant commitment to co-operation, involving 36 departments at both universities, with 450 research projects per year, third-party revenue in the region of EUR 31 million, 17 jointly appointed professors, and 7 jointly appointed NAWI Graz Fulbright professors.

There are 5 300 students enrolled at bachelor’s and master’s levels, across 6 bachelor’s and 15 master’s programmes (of which 7 are in English). Students decide where they want to be enrolled either at the University of Graz or Graz Technical University, often depending on the discipline. It also has allowed for students to design their own individual study programme. Students have been able to approach professors to discuss an area of interest for which a programme does not exist and an individualised curriculum has been developed for them. This form of curricular entrepreneurship means that such a student may be the only person with a degree in this particular area of their interest. Rather than the governance change of merger, NAWI Graz illustrates the opportunities to generate something new through such a structure of co-operation, both for the institutions and for students.

Collaboration also takes place between HEIs and other entities, and in particular local governments, chambers of commerce, regional development agencies and other relevant stakeholders. In particular, Austria has developed specific policies to facilitate the interaction between HEIs and businesses. For instance, Christian Doppler (CD) laboratories are research units within public universities that perform basic research, based on applications received by businesses. In the same vein, Josef Ressel (JR) centres are research units hosted at the UAS and designed to perform application-oriented applied research (CDG, 2018).

Many Austrian stakeholders, including business representatives, consider the development of interdisciplinary programmes of paramount importance for the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda but challenges remain. In particular, the new university funding system is based on discipline-specific costs and it could be difficult to determine the costs, or the appropriate weighting, of an interdisciplinary programme. Several representatives from specialised universities expressed their concerns about this situation.

Areas for further policy and institutional development

Austria’s higher education system is going in the right direction in terms of engagement and value creation; however, certain actions could improve this evolution. This section identifies four strategic areas in which stakeholders could promote further improvements: the funding system (supporting the entrepreneurial agenda); the strategic planning and performance agreement; the governance models; and, finally, the programme development framework.

Funding for the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda

The Austrian Ministry of Education, Science and Research has introduced a new funding model for public universities for the performance agreement 2019-21. The new model puts additional resources into the system (OECD, 2018). In particular, funds are allocated to three pillars: i) teaching; ii) research (for research universities) and advancement and appreciation of the arts (for the universities of art); and iii) infrastructure and strategic development.

  • For the first pillar (“teaching”), the basic indicator is the number of active students, i.e. students in degree programmes who actively take exams (student places). In addition, two “competitive indicators” are used to provide specific incentives in each of the two pillars. For teaching, the competitive indicators are the number of graduations in regular bachelor’s, master’s and diploma programmes and the number of studies actively pursued by students.

  • For the second pillar (“research/advancement and appreciation of the arts”), the basic indicator is the number of scientific and artistic personnel. For research, the competitive indicators will be third-party funding revenues and the number of doctoral students in employment. The reference value for these basic indicators of the first and second pillars are agreed upon in the negotiations of the performance agreements. These reference values will determine the indicator-based part of the global budget for each university.

  • The third pillar (infrastructure and strategic development) – in addition to payments for buildings, additional clinical cost and funding of special areas such as art galleries etc. – comprises strategic funds for new incentives and direct investment in areas that cannot be unambiguously assigned to one of the first two pillars, e.g. the social dimension or digital initiative.

Although, in general, stakeholders have a positive attitude towards the new funding model, there are some possibilities for improvement. As mentioned in the previous section, discipline-specific HEIs have expressed concerns about the possibility of being penalised by a funding system that takes into account the historic costs. The new system will determine an average unit cost by discipline to be applied across the system, which will then be used in the calculation of the overall budget of an institution. The aim is to increase transparency in funding allocations and to take into account differing costs associated with the delivery of different disciplines.

There is no doubt this approach will work well for multi-discipline universities and will assist in driving new and emerging system strategies. However, in the Austrian system, a number of discipline-specific institutions exist in areas such as economics and the arts. Some institutions and their associated disciplines have most likely the lowest unit costs by discipline and thus act as the base level discipline for comparison purposes in the unit cost model. Hence, their budgetary position will invariably be among the lowest in the system, under the new model. In the case of universities of arts, the number of students who actively take exams is high and the budgetary effect of enhancement may be limited.

The new funding model does not allocate specific additional resources to third-mission activities, these depend on specific programmes and projects (Box 3.6). As noted by Clark (1998), engagement remains a peripheral activity of universities until institutional change within the higher education system provides resources for long-term and stable funding streams.

Box 3.6. Programmes and projects supporting engagement in Austria

PPPs developed by the Christian Doppler Research Association (CDG): CD laboratories and Josef Ressel (JR) centres

The Christian Doppler Research Association (CDG) has developed a public-private partnership model to promote co-operation between business and HEIs. Based on this approach, the CDG created CD laboratories and JR centres, which work respectively in public universities and UAS. The CDG supports the creation of these temporary entities directly within HEIs to avoid the disadvantages of creating new structures and bureaucracies (OECD, 2018). CD laboratories and JR centres have become gateways for businesses to get in contact with basic research or applied research. At the same time, the exposure to the research queries coming from the business community helps HEIs develop their research expertise (FHK, 2018). For example, JR centres can run for up to 5 years with an annual budget of about EUR 400 000. JR centres’ specialisation depends on research-applications received from the private sector. JR centres currently operate into two research clusters: i) mathematics, informatics and electronics; and ii) non-metallic materials.

Co-operation with business has generated valuable additional resources for UAS. In 2015, the UAS obtained revenues from R&D co-operation amounting to EUR 40 million (FHK, 2018). The business sector financed R&D at UAS with EUR 13 million (13% of all R&D performed at UAS, compared to 4.8% for universities (Statistics Austria, 2017).

Sources: OECD (2018), OECD Reviews of Innovation Policy: Austria 2018, OECD Reviews of Innovation Policy,; FHK, 2018; Statistics Austria, 2017.

Financing engagement through a parallel funding system based on programmes and projects, as in Austria, is common in OECD countries. There are countries, however, that have put in place a bundle of co-ordinated programmes and projects that have generated a high level of engagement impact. For instance, Ireland has developed the New Frontiers Programme (Enterprise Ireland, 2018) and the Springboard programmes (Higher Education Authority, 2018). Particularly relevant is the Dutch experience with the Valorisation Programme, which represents a systemic effort to promote the engagement agenda in the higher education system of that country (Box 3.7).

Box 3.7. Successful international practices concerning programmes and projects supporting engagement

The Irish approach: New Frontiers and the Springboard programmes

New Frontiers is Ireland’s national entrepreneur development programme delivered at the local level by universities/institutes of technology and funded by Enterprise Ireland. The programme started in 2012. It provides help and support to individuals who have developed an innovative business idea and are planning to run their own company. New Frontiers aims to accelerate business development and equip entrepreneurs with skills and contacts they need to succeed in their enterprise. In practice, the programme trains new entrepreneurs, give them access to incubator facilities, mentoring and networks. The programme grants scholarships of up to EUR 15 000.

The Irish government launched the Springboard programme in 2011 as part of the Government’s Jobs Initiative. It complements the core state-funded education and training system. In particular, Springboard provides free or 90% funded upskilling and reskilling higher education opportunities in areas of identified skills needs. The programme has broadened its scope since it started. For example, in the beginning, the initiative’s primary target group was unemployed people with a previous history of employment. Over recent years, due to the improvements in the labour market, Springboard aims to provide new skills to people in employment.

The Netherlands’ Valorisation Programme

Between 2010 and 2018, the Dutch government has provided significant funding to entrepreneurship and innovation activities in HEIs through the so-called Valorisation Programme.

The valorisation – or value creation – agenda has had many benefits. First, it has supported the introduction of new staff profiles and initiatives to broaden career paths for HEI staff (e.g. policy advisors). Second, it supported an increase in collaboration between HEIs, joint initiatives with city and regional governments, and boosted research activities in universities of applied sciences. Third, “valorisation” has also enhanced interdisciplinarity, with further stimulus from the 2016 Dutch Research Agenda. Finally, a key part of the valorisation agenda involves supporting start-ups by staff and students.

Sources: OECD/EU (2018), Supporting Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Higher Education in The Netherlands,; Department of Education & Skills (n.d.), Upskilling and Reskilling - Higher Education,; Enterprise Ireland (2018), New Frontiers – Support for Irish Startups, (Accessed on May 2019)

Public investment in research and development (R&D) represents another important source of funding in Austria for the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda. The federal government has actively promoted R&D in the country, since the end of the 1990s. At that time Austria’s R&D intensity (aggregate R&D expenditure as a percentage of GDP) was below the OECD average. Since then, Austria’s R&D expenditure has increased considerably and much faster than in other OECD countries (OECD, 2018; BMWFW/ BMVIT, 2017).

The increase in R&D investment, however, was not paralleled by a proportional increase in investment in research infrastructure and in basic research. Similar to other countries, during the long economic downturn, capital investment plans in research infrastructure were also postponed in Austria. The economic recession also affected investment in basic research activities.

These unavoidable investment circumstances may have hampered the capacity of Austrian HEIs to capitalise on the national agenda supporting innovation. Given the importance attached by federal authorities to the expansion and development of R&D and innovation capacity and considering the return to a more positive economic outlook, Austrian authorities should consider adopting a more holistic approach to investment in research and innovation. For example, they could review the level of investment required. As part of this review, priority areas, proposed outputs and impacts, and the structure of the associated competitive calls to support any additional investment in research infrastructure could be examined. In a similar vein, it would be important to assess and eventually increase investment in basic research activities, especially in competitive funding of R&D and research infrastructure.

Strategic planning and performance agreements

Austrian public universities negotiate performance agreements with the federal ministry to facilitate the alignment of the individual strategy with the overarching goals of the higher education system. Performance agreements (PAs) are contracts signed between funding authorities and individual universities. PAs are common in many OECD countries.

Performance agreements could support HEIs engagement more efficiently. Austrian public universities develop their strategic plans following a format suggested by the Federal Austrian Ministry of Education, Science and Research within the context of the performance agreements process. This approach facilitates the harmonisation between national and individual strategies, but it also generates a certain degree of “standardisation” in the university strategies, which, in turn, reduces the capacity of a given university to reflect the features of its ecosystem.

To improve the capacity of performance agreements to generate individual HEI strategies, which also deliver on national objectives, Austrian authorities could consider adopting a two-part discussion and including international peers. In the first part of the discussion, Austrian HEIs should be free to develop their own strategic plan – as opposed to following a prescribed template. The strategic plan should also emphasise how the individual strategy will deliver on national objectives. In the second part of the discussion, the parties could discuss financial issues and performance statistics. Both discussion elements would contribute to the final performance agreement between the university and the ministry.

Some international practices could inspire new performance agreements between the federal ministry and HEIs. For instance, the Irish Higher Education System Performance model utilises international peers as part of their process and allows HEIs to develop their own unique strategy (Box 3.8).

Box 3.8. Irish Higher Education System Performance Framework Process

The Irish Higher Education System Performance Framework has six key system objectives:

  1. 1. Provide a strong talent pipeline combining knowledge, skills and employability, which responds effectively to the needs of our enterprise, public service and community sectors, both nationally and regionally, and maintains Irish leadership in Europe for skill availability.

  2. 2. Create rich opportunities for national and international engagement, which enhances the learning environment and delivers a strong bridge to enterprise and the wider community.

  3. 3. Excellent research, development and innovation that has relevance, growing engagement with external partners and impact for the economy and society, and strengthens Ireland’s standing to become an innovation leader in Europe.

  4. 4. Significantly improve the equality of opportunity through education and training and recruits a student body that reflects the diversity and social mix of Ireland’s population.

  5. 5. Demonstrate consistent improvement in the quality of the learning environment with a close eye to international best practice through a strong focus on quality and academic excellence.

  6. 6. Demonstrate consistent improvement in governance, leadership and operational excellence.

Each system objective has several high-level targets, which the HE system are asked to deliver on through a range of national and regional policy initiatives. The framework process involves the HEIs completing and submitting performance agreement documentation to the Higher Education Authority (HEA) for consideration, discussion and agreement. The HEI submissions are expected to reference their approach to delivering on key system objectives and associated targets in the context of their individual strategic plans developed in association with stakeholders at a regional level. The discussion process with the HEA involves both a strategic discussion involving a panel of international peers drawn from research universities, UAS and HE representative bodies and a budgetary and metrics discussion. The inclusion of a strategic discussion, as opposed to a metrics only discussion, led by international peers, facilitates more open dialogue and a greater understanding of the approach being taken by HEIs to meeting national objectives set in the performance framework.

As in most OECD countries, it is also proving difficult in Austria to account for engagement and value generation when measuring the performance of HEIs. If one considers the kind of documentation that HEIs have to provide and terms of the negotiation, it appears that the performance agreement process focuses on funding issues and statistical metrics collected for system-wide performance purposes.1 Too often, measurement activities rely upon input indicators, rather than considering outputs.

The evaluation system assessing the performance of Austrian HEIs should take into account both economic and societal variables. The current evaluation system of public universities is based on an accounting tool combining a quantitative metric, comments on the development of indicators and a qualitative report on performance and achievements (Wissensbilanz).

It would be possible to improve this measurement approach by adopting more structured evaluation processes, in which evaluators go on field visits and interview stakeholders, including those outside of HEIs. These tailored evaluation processes, financed by the performance agreement process, could generate qualitative indicators and use impact assessment templates to develop narratives related to a specific practice. The results of these evaluation exercises could inform performance agreements as well as government policy and investment decisions. Importantly, intelligible evaluation results, which outline successful practices (explaining the way and the context in which these have been implemented) could inspire other HEIs, thus spreading good practices within the system.

Some national impact monitoring approaches are pointed in the right direction and Austria could also take into account international experiences. The Vienna University of Economics has developed “impact maps” to display its own capacity to generate value. At an international level, several countries have been progressing in this policy agenda. The Netherlands has developed a successful evaluation practice in connection with the Valorisation Programme, discussed above. A multidimensional framework based on qualitative and quantitative indicators guides evaluation activities in research universities and UAS (Box 3.9). Importantly, monitoring and evaluation activities involve a large number of stakeholders and intermediary institutions to generate consensus and co-operation.

Box 3.9. Monitoring and evaluation indicators: Pioneering practices in the Netherlands

In 2010, the Dutch government commissioned research work to develop a list of generic indicators to measure valorisation performance. The indicators had to be applicable in a wide variety of settings, on several levels and for a variety of evaluation goals. The authors soon discovered that there was no ready-made set of indicators that matched the broad definition of valorisation. They were also critical of the use of patent counts as an indicator of valorisation, arguing that the broader societal and economic use of scientific knowledge needs to be taken into account.

Combining quantitative and qualitative indicators, the research proposed a comprehensive four-dimensional framework that could be applied in various situations, including research universities and the UAS. Furthermore, greater attention needs to be paid to the process of valorisation (viewed as a process of interaction during all stages of research rather than just the transfer of knowledge at the end of a research project) when trying to measure valorisation performance, rather than simply considering output indicators.

Since its publication in 2011, the framework has been used in a variety of ways, including for the award of competitive research funding, and has been discussed in parliament. It is credited with having moved valorisation measurement discussions away from focusing only on quantitative indicators of researcher and research organisation performance to a broader, more process-oriented approach that includes other actors as well.

Sources: van Drooge, L., Spaapen, J., (2011), “Introducing “productive interactions” in social impact

assessment.” Research Evaluation, No 20, 211–218; OECD (2014), OECD Reviews of Innovation Policy: the Netherlands, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Governance models

Since 2002, Austrian public universities have a multidimensional governance system based on the senate, the rectorate, and a university council (Universitätsrat, see also Chapter 1). The senate governs academic matters, such as authorising and supervising courses and curricula offered by universities. The rectorate and the university council are in charge of strategic decisions. A peculiar feature of the Austrian model is that the rectorate, as a collegial governing body, is on an equal footing with the board/council- and senate-type bodies (Bennetot-Provot, Estermann, 2018).

As the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda requires public universities to become more open to external stimuli, the nature of the relationship between research university management and existing senate structures could be reconsidered. Several stakeholders, including those outside the higher education system, reported that the current senate structures and approaches are too traditional and do not consider current and future national and regional economic, social and cultural needs. For example, the resistance of the senate can hamper the capacity of some Austrian public universities to put in place interdisciplinary curricula or trans-disciplinary research platforms. In some cases, this situation causes that new strategies often progress without the formal engagement of senate members and structures: the management tries to bypass the senate to innovate.

Participation by industry in the governance of HEIs takes different forms and improvements in the speed of response of universities and the development of standard agreements for co-operation are areas requiring further attention. To ensure the continued success of co-operation between HEIs and their regions, consideration should be given to strengthening university and external stakeholder engagement at the regional and national levels.

A more transparent and targeted selection of the members of the university councils could support engagement more effectively. These boards are governing bodies with competencies for strategic decisions, including budget and co-operation, so they have a key impact on the innovation and engagement agenda of HEIs. Several national stakeholders discussed the possibility of improving the selection process of members to provide university councils with expertise and representativeness. In the current system, the university and federal government select board members in equal proportions. However, the selection process does not guarantee that external members have the right competencies to support key HEI functions, including engagement and value creation. Accordingly, a more transparent procedure – e.g. based on a grid of competencies – to select council members appointed by the government could help improve the performance of university councils and their contribution to the entrepreneurship and innovation agenda.

With a view to ensuring that all relevant internal stakeholders engage constructively in developing the entrepreneurial and innovation strategy within universities, it would be important to develop system-wide guidelines and codes of practice for engagement between university management and senate structures. New guidelines and codes of practice should emphasise the need to develop a co-operative approach between management and senate structures. This co-operative approach should support the delivery of an entrepreneurial and innovation strategy. The development of guidelines and codes of practice could be a project co-ordinated by Universities Austria (uniko) with support from the federal ministry. There are already some good practices in the Austrian system that the federal minister could capitalise on and extend to all stakeholders. These good practice models for collaboration between management and senate structures were observed as part of this review in the Angewandte, the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, the Vienna University of Economics and Business, the BOKU in Vienna and the University of Vienna. Similar experiences have been implemented in the Vienna University of Economics and Business and in the University of Vienna. In all these cases, there was good co-operation between the senate and management.

Programme development frameworks

Austrian HEIs could pilot and scale-up new approaches to teaching and researching that are relevant to the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda in the HE system. Attention should be paid to a strategic renewal of teaching, integrating the use of digital instruments and strengthening of intersectoral co-operation between UAS and universities. The aim of the higher education system should be to mainstream entrepreneurship and engagement across HEI missions and activities. To achieve this result, HEIs would benefit from the support of federal authorities, which could introduce new competitive cross-sector funding calls focusing on interdisciplinary study programmes and HEI-HEI collaboration, including between public universities and UAS. In addition, regional authorities could support the piloting of regional initiatives.

Austria is already home to good regional experiences, such as the Styrian Science Space discussed above, and stakeholders could consider some successful international practices. For instance, Ireland put in place a Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) to support reform in higher education. The SIF was a multi-annual fund deployed between 2006 and 2011, which supported innovation, collaboration and reform in higher education. Through SIF, the Irish government supported projects aimed at improving teaching and learning, supporting institutional reform, promoting access and lifelong learning, and the development of fourth-level (postgraduate) education.

In addition, at the subnational level, Ireland has created Regional Skills For a, which facilitate greater interaction between HEIs, other state agencies, industry, businesses and the community in course development and dual learning activities required to meet regional skills needs (Box 3.10).

Improving programme development and accreditation is also important for Austrian UAS. In their case, flexibility and rapidity in programme development and accreditation are essential to delivering on the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda. Currently, UAS have programme rather than discipline accreditation. This can act as a barrier to their ability to respond to industry and business needs. Federal authorities could consider the possibility of granting UAS delegated authority to make awards in specific areas where they have an established “track record” or where there are identifiable industry needs. In addition, promoting collaboration between public universities and UAS in the form of research consortia and collaboration in doctoral education would strengthen the academic and research capacity of UAS and their associated regions.

Programmes for professional vocational education could facilitate the development of a ladder system of qualifications. This would add flexibility to the system and allow individuals to enter and exit from higher education according to their needs – with a positive impact on progression and completion rates – and facilitate lifelong learning.

Box 3.10. The Regional Skills Fora in Ireland

The Network of Regional Skills Fora, which was recently created as part of the Irish Government’s National Skills Strategy, provides an opportunity for employers and the education and training system to work together to meet the emerging skills needs of their regions. More structured engagement on the skills agenda and the work of the fora will contribute to better outcomes for learners and support enterprise development.

The fora provides:

  • a single contact point in each region to help employers connect with the range of services and supports available across the education and training system

  • more robust labour market information and analysis of employer needs to inform programme development

  • greater collaboration and utilisation of resources across the education and training system and enhancement of progression routes for learners

  • a structure for employers to become more involved in promoting employment roles and opportunities for career progression in their sectors.

The advantages of applying the above learning models in Austria include ensuring stakeholder participation in the development of national and regional strategies, the setting of goals on a collective basis and participation by stakeholders in the delivery and monitoring of progress, thus promoting a partnership approach to national and regional development agenda.

Source: Department of Education and Skills (n.d.), Regional Skills - Partnership for Skills (Accessed on May 2019).

As is happening in other OECD countries, there are also some examples of public universities in Austria that have put in place interdisciplinary doctoral programmes going beyond “research-only” practices. These PhD programmes offer geographical/ intersectoral mobility within the framework of international collaborations with other HEIs or business and enterprise partners. The aim is to help students develop transferable skills that can give them the possibility of accessing employment opportunities outside academia. This approach, however, is not generalised, nor developed to its full potential. With a view to assisting in the development of doctoral schools, specific training programmes for PhD supervisors could ensure uniformity in the quality of research supervision across the system and strengthen the capacity of doctoral programmes to affect the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda.

Universities of applied sciences do not award PhDs; however, they have developed a substantial quality and critical mass of output in applied research. Business stakeholders support directly the research activities of UAS, illustrating the importance of demand for applied research in the national productive sector. This arrangement, however, does not guarantee the sustainability of research activities, as budgets allocated to research groups are volatile. Several representatives from UAS met during field visits have flagged their ambition to develop industrial doctorates, in order to engage with business counterparts in applied research activities in a sustainable way and offer students a full range of educational possibilities.

Conclusions and recommendations

Austrian higher education institutions play an active role in the economic, social and cultural development of their regions and country. Many have become more innovative and entrepreneurial in their approaches to education, research and engagement, and show clear strengths.

The capacity (and will) of HEIs to effectively engage with the economy and society, however, still depends on how developed the surrounding economy is in terms of the size and age of firms, the types and amount of business innovation, and the industry structure, as well as the societal challenges to which higher education research can provide solutions. At the same time, the governance arrangements, organisational capacity and the institutional culture of an HEI are key determinants of the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda. Whereas the first set of conditions is boundary setting and largely outside the control of HEIs and change occurs slowly, the second set of conditions is controllable.

Main recommendations

  • Provide greater recognition and additional support funding for the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda. This could be achieved by introducing further improvements in the new university funding model, which would provide greater recognition and additional support funding for entrepreneurial, innovation and third-mission activities within the HE system.

  • Review the level of available funding for R&D infrastructure and basic research in the context of developing the HE system’s entrepreneurial and innovation agenda. This review should consider the level of investment required, priority areas, proposed output and impacts, as well as the structure of the associated competitive calls to support additional investment in research infrastructure and basic research.

  • Strategic planning and performance agreement processes need to evolve with a view to allowing for a more entrepreneurial and innovative approach. In this regard, the use of an international peer panel in the performance agreement process could be considered.

  • Incentivise collaboration between HEIs in the areas of interdisciplinary programmes, joint research consortia between UAS and research universities, and regional initiatives in education (e.g. lifelong learning) and/or research.

  • Generate an impact measurement system for HEIs with both quantitative performance indicators and qualitative analysis methods to help HEIs generate narratives of their impact on their respective ecosystems. Improving impact measurement would generate a platform for good practice and incentivise sustainable investment and support for entrepreneurial activities within the HE system.

  • Develop system wide guidelines and codes of practice for engagement between university management and senate structures through a process facilitated by the university representative bodies.

  • Introduce greater connectivity in doctoral programmes with the entrepreneurial and innovation agenda by improving the design and implementation of programmes in this area. Introduce training programmes for PhD supervisors. Incentivise the creation of joint research consortia of UAS, public universities and industry and business partners. These consortia could award PhDs in relevant applied research areas.

  • Adopt a more structured approach to engagement with industry, businesses and local communities at the regional level by developing regional skills and industry focus groups to support and guide the entrepreneurship and innovation agenda.

  • Introduce additional undergraduate entry programmes (ISCED 5, short cycle HE). Two-year short-cycle higher education programmes could grant access to a bachelor’s programme and to a bachelor’s degree. This would allow for the development of a ladder system of qualifications. Participants could enter and exit the system on a more flexible basis. This would facilitate lifelong learning. In addition, associated degrees may yield a better skills match in the labour market.


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van Drooge, L., Spaapen, J., (2011), “Introducing “productive interactions” in social impact assessment.” Research Evaluation, No 20, 211–218;

FHK (2018), “Facts and figures 2018”,

OECD (2018), OECD Reviews of Innovation Policy: Austria 2018, OECD Reviews of Innovation Policy, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2014), OECD Reviews of Innovation Policy: Netherlands 2014, OECD Reviews of Innovation Policy, OECD Publishing, Paris,

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Enterprise Ireland (2018), New Frontiers – Support for Irish Startups, (Accessed on May 2019)

Goddard, J. et al. (2016), The Civic University, Elgar Publishing.

Government of Portugal (2018), Short Cycle,

Higher Education Authority (2018), Springboard+, (Accessed on May 2019)

OECD (2017), Education Policy Outlook: Austria,

OECD (2018), OECD Reviews of Innovation Policy: Austria 2018, OECD Reviews of Innovation Policy, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (forthcoming), Economic Reviews: Austria, OECD Publishing, Paris.

OECD (forthcoming), Supporting Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Higher Education in Italy, OECD Publishing, Paris.

OECD/EU (2018), Supporting Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Higher Education in The Netherlands, OECD Skills Studies, OECD Publishing, Paris/EU, Brussels,

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Chapter 3. Leadership and governance in Austrian higher education institutions