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WUS25 – 25 years of WUS Austria

Graz. On Friday, October 24th, WUS Austria celebrated its 25th anniversary in the Aula of the Karl-Franzens-University of Graz. The event combined the exchange between former and current employees and partners of WUS Austria and speeches and panel discussions of experts involved in the work done by WUS Austria. Musically, the morning was accompanied by a set of traditional songs from the Balkans, performed a cappella by Natasa Mirkovic-De Ro. In addition, an exhibition guiding through a quarter of a century of WUS Austria was set up in the hallway in front of the Aula, enabling the guests to learn more about the history of our organisation during the breaks. Click here for the online exhibition!

After welcoming words of Univ.-Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Benedek, Chairman of WUS Austria, Mag. Hildegard Gruber-Weidacher addressed the audience on behalf of the University of Graz; followed by BR Mag. Gerald Klug, Province of Styria; Dr. Peter Piffl-Percevic, City of Graz; Dr. Johannes Binder, Austrian Development Agency; DI Dr. Michael Klees, Rector of the University of Applied Sciences Joanneum and Dr. Kambiz Ghawami, Head of WUS Germany.

Mag. Elmar Pichl, Head of the Office of the Austrian Federal Minister for Science and Research and former Head of WUS Austria Office in Prishtina, held a speech on the topic “On the Significance of Higher Education in South-Eastern Europe”.

Mag. Margarete Kernegger, now working for the Preparation Course of the Universities of Vienna and Mag. Thomas Klein, now working for Contrast Management-Consulting reported shortly about their time with WUS Austria. While Kernegger started with WUS Austria right from the beginning and was, with her colleagues, one of the first to see the need for additional information for students coming from abroad in order to conduct their studies in Austria, Klein “invented” and developed the Balkan Case Challenge (, today being one of the biggest projects of WUS Austria.

We are glad that we could also welcome Prof. Dr. Srbijanka Turajlic, former Serbian Vice-Minister for Education; Prof. Dr. Mira Vukcevic, Vice-Rector of the University of Montenegro and Prof. Dr. Emir Turkusic, former Minister for Education of the Canton of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. All of them delivered their gratitude to WUS Austria, not only for its help in difficult times, but especially for its approach towards beneficiaries: WUS has always seen them as cooperation partners, which can not be taken for granted when working with the international donor-community, the speakers emphasized.

Before Mag. Siegfried Nagl, Mayor of the City of Graz, delivered his welcoming words and declared the buffet officially open, it was up to Univ.-Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Benedek to present the festschrift, which includes 30 contributions from different people, their personal stories and connections with WUS Austria. Among the contributors are Dr. Wolfgang Benedek, Chairman, and Mag. Almir Kovacevic, Executive Director of WUS Austria as well as the former Austrian Vice-Chancellor Dr. Erhard Busek and Ambassador Dr. Emil Brix. Many other former and current employees and members also contributed to the festschrift and used the opportunity to congratulate WUS Austria to its 25th year of exceptional help and support in many countries.

The afternoon was dedicated to “The Future of Higher Education in South-Eastern Europe”, with MinR Mag. Anton Mair, Austrian Foreign Ministry, delivering welcoming words. “Past and Future Challenges” were discussed in Part I by the managers of the local offices of WUS Austria: Goran Ostojic, Goran Drakul, But Dedaj, Dino Mujkic and Almir Kovacevic, Executive Director of WUS Austria. All of them stated the long-term support of WUS Austria to be critical in the further improvement of the universities in their home countries. After a short break Almir Kovacevic presented some data on how many projects were already implemented and how many (students and teaching staff) beneficiaries WUS Austria has had in its 15 years of presence in South-Eastern Europe.

Then, two short movies were shown to deepen the understanding of how times changed in those 15 years: “How to be a Student in Sarajevo” (1994) showed the effort students put into the attempt to learn and improve their knowledge in the middle of a cruel war. This was the time and those were the circumstances under which WUS Austria started its work in Sarajevo, the first city where a local office was opened in 1994. Fifteen years later, in 2008, the second short movie was produced: WUS Austria is bringing highly motivated students from 12 different countries to Vienna to case-study competitions held in four areas: law, economics, political science and information technologies, through the “Balkan Case Challenge”. The contrast between the two clips could not be any bigger.

In the second part of the panel, a variety of partners and donors of WUS Austria’s current activities shared their experiences and ideas about the future: Dipl.-Ing. Herbert Pock from Austin, Pock & Partners; Mag. Roswitha Wiedenhofer, FH Joanneum; Mag. Robin Gosejohann, ERSTE Foundation; Mag. Elisabeth Schüller-Ramßl, Erste Group Bank AG; Mag. Peter Perkonigg, Styrian Business Promotion Agency; and last but not least again Mag. Hildegard Gruber-Weidacher, representing the University of Graz. The lively discussion centred on differences and similarities between universities in Austria and South-Eastern Europe on their way to European Standards, as well as on the vision of an enterprise (Erste Group Bank AG) on the “outcome” of universities – those graduates who then apply for a job in the business-world. Also the role of ERSTE Foundation, an organisation supporting the social role of universities and their duties in advancing the society as a whole was brought into spotlight.

After a long and very interesting day, the conclusions of Dr. Wolfgang Benedek perfected the day, summarizing the different ideas and opinions brought up and discussed within the past hours.

The event continued with a party in Café Harrach, with live music from Natasa Mirkovic-De Ro and band in the beginning and DJ Raven Kendi until the end.

Please click here to download “General Conclusions and Main Challenges for the Future. Results of the Symposium The Future of Higher Education in South-Eastern Europe, 24 October 2008, by Wolfgang Benedek, University of Graz, Chairman of WUS Austria.

Impressions from the Party in Café HarrachImpressions from the Party in Café HarrachPanel discussion with partners and donorsPanel discussion with partners and donorsWolfgang Benedek presenting the festschriftMag. Siegfried NaglProf. Dr. Emir TurkusicUniv-Prof. Dr. Wolfgang BenedekDr. Kambiz Ghawami, WUS GermanyDI Dr. Michael Klees, FH JoanneumDr. Johannes Binder, ADA  	Impressions from the Party in Café Harrach