MSc PNP Study Trip – Day 2: Behind the scences of using public funds to achieve outcomes

From Empress Maria Theresia to Dynasty of Count Starhemberg

As today’s program started a little bit earlier than yesterday, there were still some tired faces when we met at 8 o’clock in the lobby of Motel One. After a short briefing about the program of today, which included some general facts about the Austrian Court of Audit (Rechnungshof), mentioned as a secret highlight of the week by Pascal Horni, and the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research, as well as information about the speakers, we made our way to our first stop by public transport. The Austrian Court of Audit is located at Dampfschiffstrasse 2 in the financial district of Vienna. On our way we passed the Austrian Federal Computing Center, about which we already received some information yesterday. After a warm welcome from Mag. Sandra Fuchs and Mag. Bernhardt Schatz, we were introduced to the main tasks of the Austrian Court of Audits. Mag. Sandra Fuchs is a member of the General Secretariat of INTOSAI, the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions. She is responsible for regional organisations and member services, as well as bilateral and multilateral contacts.

The Group at the Austrian Court of Audit

The Austrian Court of Audit was founded in 1761 by Empress Maria Theresia as a control body with the rank of a ministry. Within the framework of its constitutional independence, the Austrian Court of Auditors controls whether the public funds are used economically and functional. The exercise of public control is one of the cornerstones of parliamentarism and democracy. Consequently, independence of the Austrian Court of Audit is a big and very important factor. Unlike other ministries, with a normal term of office of 5 years, the independence of the ministry is guaranteed with a term of office of 12 years. The two main tasks of the ministry are; performance auditing and consultancy. 75% of the consultancy recommendations are being implemented. The other 25% often receive creative solutions and a period of 5 years for possible implementation. We were also introduced to the INTOSAI, which is an autonomous, independent and non-political organisation and operates as an umbrella organisation for the external government audit community. INTOSAI’s headquarter has been located in Vienna since 1968. It has 194 member states and Switzerland was one of the co-founders in 1953. Digitalisation is a major issue and regarded as a big opportunity. However, it is difficult and a rather slow process to implement such measures in the Austrian Court of Auditors, whereas at INTOSAI 30 people are already developing an app through a hackathon. After the presentation of Mag. Sandra Fuchs, Mag. Bernhardt Schatz introduced us to the Audit of the Austrian federal accounts. He presented some facts and figures, as well as the main tasks and the timeline of the annual report. We were happy to hear that Switzerland acted as a role model for the components of the federal accounts. One of the challenges is, that the budget regulations influence the budget allocation practice. This raises the question whether the independence of the ACA is guaranteed at all times.
Finally, we had the pleasure to enjoy a nice cup of coffee or tea and some refreshing drinks while we still had the opportunity to ask questions and continue our discussion.

After an individual lunch we directly met at the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research (BMBWF), located in the middle architecturally stunning city centre of Vienna.

Entrance to the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research

The building of the ministry once belonged to the dynasty of Count Starhemberg and is mostly in its original state and was redecorated accordingly after the Congress of Vienna. Mag. Dr. Iris Rauskala, head of the section, warmly welcomed us to the baroque style conference room for a 2-hour presentation and discussion. The Ministry’s responsibilities in the area of education cover the entire school system including primary school, secondary school, university colleges of teacher education, adult education and lifelong learning. Since last year, the ministry has changed significantly. Since the formation of the new government, the Ministry has been divided into five sections, whereby the 4th and 5th sections deal on the one hand with universities and universities of applied sciences and on the other hand with scientific research and international affairs.

In total, the Ministry has a federal budget of EUR 78 billion for 2018, of which EUR 8 billion can be allocated to education and almost EUR 5 billion to science and research. The Austrian higher education area offers space for a total of 384’548 students with the majority of students (309’172) studying at the 22 public universities. Despite the Austrian federal system, these universities are regulated centrally by the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research, with the universities of applied sciences being controlled by municipalities or private sponsors. In comparison to Switzerland, which is also a federal country, this distribution of tasks is a characteristic difference. Austrian universities are characterised by a rather low degree of mobility, with the majority of almost 58’000 students coming from Europe (90.8%), especially Germany and Italy. In a European comparison, Austrian universities have a broad status of autonomy. The education sector is expanding continuously and the number of students is increasing, which is also reflected in an increasing overall budget. However, the number of students is increasing even more and is coupled with further challenges. For example, the study access is rather uncoordinated, there are many inactive but enrolled students, which results in an often long duration of study and high dropout rates. The ministry has defined a total of five impact goals in order to systematically tackle the problems. Mag. Dr. Iris Rauskala was quite critical regarding the impact goals, as they are not measurable, without a timeline and one goal includes different areas. When developing measures, however, it should always be ensured that the public interest is taken care of and the system is being improved. According to the head of the section, Mag. Dr. Iris Rauskala, education as a public good is very important for Austrias society and should/will probably remain so in the future.

Post by Group Keller, Bohn, Schmidli and Garobbio

MSc PNP Study Trip – Day 1: Servus Vienna & Finance Administration 4.0

Our first day in Vienna started in the beautiful „Palmenhaus“ next to the „Schmetterlinghaus“ in the centre of the city. After a warm welcome from our lecturers along with coffee, tea and croissants, we were briefed about our upcoming day. At the memorial against war and fascism in front of the „Wiener Staatsoper“, we met our tourguide Yvonne Heuberger-Dornauer, who briefly introduced us to the history of Austria and particular Vienna. Our first stop was in front of the national library on the place named after Josef II, who is immortalized as a statue. In contrary to his relatives, he went down in history for being an enlighter, who passed many radical reforms. His mother, empress Maria Theresia, perfected the Habsburger marriage policy, by engaging her twelve children with all the important dynasties and acomplished many useful alliances for the Habsburger. After a quick walk through the „Schweizer-Hof“, which was named after a battalion of the Swiss Guards, who were stationed there in the 18th century, we stopped on the „Heldenplatz“.

The MSc Students listening to the explanations of the tour guide

After an individual lunch, we met at the Federal Ministery of Finance. Chief of staff, Mrs. Daphne Aiglsberger, welcomed us in a conference room in the 4th floor of the former winter residence of Prince Eugene of Savoyen. Firstly, she gave us an overview on the ministery. In contrast to Switzerland, in Austria the fiscal sovereignty and tax Collection is entirely in the hands of the federation. She introduced us to the recent developements in digitalisation and New Public Management reforms on finance matters. We talked about the challenges of the departement of finance administration, management and services. For example the growing complexity of economy through globalization and digitalization. She talked on how they intend to improve the usability of the tax declaration and customer service as a whole. The question how to cope with the latest developments and how to engage engage in cutting-edge technology such as blockchain and the concept of big data is still open to some extent. 

Meeting at the Ministry of Finance

In the end, we had time to ask some questions. We noticed that the people of Austria prefer customer-service over absolute data sovereignty in contrast to Swiss people. Centralization of tax sovereignty in Austria also helps to take further steps in digitalization, such as online tax declaration, chatbots or apps for small enterpreneurs. At 4.30 p.m. an interesting presentation and thus our daily program ended.

Posted by Group Rickli, Thierer, Eiholzer and Dudzinska

MSc PNP Study Trip to Vienna ~2018~

As part of their unique curriculum, the MSc BA Students with the Specialization in Public and Nonprofit Management embark on a study trip to Vienna to learn about Austria’s government institutions and to dive into its administrative context. In particular, allocating, administering and making effective and efficient use of taxpayer’s money are topics, which will be covered during the visits at the Austrian Ministry of Finance, the Austrian Court of Audit or the Ministry of Science and Education as a budget executing entity. A second focus of the study trip is on digital transformation of public administration, which will be touched by visits of the City of Vienna, which has launched its “Digital Agenda”, or the newly established Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs. An exciting and insightful week is awaiting the students, who will take over this blog and share their experiences. 

ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences, School of Management and Law