The darker side of the academy

Do you believe in magic? You probably should. Allowed to earn maximum 3840 Euros per year, you must prove that you have 8000 Euros in your bank account (attention borrowers: the authorities could ask for your bank records from the last few months). 

The Darker Side of the Academy was an intervention during the Open doors 2011 of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, which had the goal to expose the exclusion mechanisms and discrimination against migrants who sought to be part of the Austrian educational system.


At the end of 2010, a new law required that third-country students prove they count minimum with 8,000 euros in their bank accounts. But the law only allowed third-country students to have a minimal income job, meaning they couldn't earn more than 3,840 euros per year. This left a gap of 4,160 euros which could not be autonomously covered and that therefore required the student had a prior network of economic resources. We engaged in a process of organization of the actions we could do with the methodologies we managed best within our groups. This manifested in a tour within the academy, a letter to the rectorate we read out loud before submission and an installation that could be visited during the four days of the Open Doors of the Academy of Fine Arts (21-24 January 2011).


A class group from the IKL produced a guided tour that was symbolized with speech bubble banners and whose last steps were the main entrance of the building of the Academy in Schillerplatz and the students admission office.


Together we walked towards the rectorate's office and several of us read in front of their office a letter to the rectorate which we then officially gave to its secretary.

Open letter read in front of the office of the rector of the Akademie der bildenden K√ľnste at the end of the initiative of the Darker Side of the Academy. For the abolition of discriminatory structures against students from non-EU countries and the establishment of a facility for their advice and support.

Migrants from non-EU countries are heavily discriminated against on different levels of society in Austria, including the education sector. Ranging from non-transparent and long-lasting registration processes to the residence 'permission' with its intensified regulations and administrative practices; to the exclusions from the labour market and scholarship system; to the charging of tuition fees; extending to ubiquitous everyday racism. These are all measures that manifest the racial division in the education system that affects students from non-EU countries.
In the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, there are facilities that focus more or less on dealing with issues of racial discrimination, such as the Working Group for Equal Opportunities or the International Office of the Austrian Students Union along with a variety of self-organised groups and individuals. Regardless, the Academy as – according to how it represents itself – a critical and progressive educational institution, is no exception in the racist reality that students have to cope with.
Non-EU students – unlike the majority of their colleagues – have to pay tuition fees, and at least partially co-finance the ongoing operation of the institution, although at comparable institutions there are internal arrangements for the reimbursement of tuition fees in order to overcome these discriminatory divisions between students.
More and more, students from non-EU countries depend on the informal assistance of dedicated staff members from the institution, who are not skilled nor paid for it, or on their own networks of friends and colleagues when seeking help and advice in order to deal with all of the bureaucratic hurdles that they have to face in the course of their studies.
All in all, not a single official facility exists at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna that concentrates on this topic and possesses enough knowledge in order to stand by the affected students as an advisory and supportive capacity.
A facility which:
Gives legal advice to students from non-EU countries during their application process and during their studies,
provides a network with institutions that offer legal assistance to migrants e.g. through informative events,
collects the latest information about the regulations concerning residence and studying in Austria and circulates it in different languages,
supports the students in their communication with the authorities, networks with groups within the Academy that push for anti-racist and anti-discriminatory practices,
and will be the first point of contact for students affected by racist discrimination.
We demand a stop to the discriminatory structures at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna – starting with a new tuition fee system, which is equal for all students and make hereby an application for the establishment of a designated facility for advice and support for students from non-EU countries.

Vienna, 21 January 2011.


We have a solution for all of you. Marry a EU citizen, find a job, save money, avoid the police, learn proper German, then come back and try again.

As an installation, we set up a studying desk with the voluminous visa information a third country student needs to recollect and wrote the necessary calculations on the table. In the wall hanged a welcome letter from the Academy of Fine Arts telling the student 'Hope you believe in magic' referring to the impossible gap to be autonomously covered and that therefore required a trust network of resources proper of privileged students. The letter copied the style of the official letter of the university, including a reinterpretation of its institutional logo, which we also used in stickers and postcards.


We were invited to talk with the rectorate. In the next semesters we saw the following direct and indirect changes:

The constitution of a one person referat of political antiracist practice, which formalized the work that activists-students were already doing in collecting information, translating it to different languages and providing advice.

The university's website was translated fully into English.

Three English courses started to be dictated.

The Studienabteilung has a person who replies to people who only speak in English.

The darker side of the academy, 2011Intervention, installation, workshop, tour
Work group The Darker Side of The Academy