Short history of TU Wien

Early history

The institutional roots of TU Wien, which was founded in 1815 as the "Imperial & Royal Polytechnic Institute of Vienna", lie in the military and technical-commercial colleges which began to spring up in Austria, as they did all over Europe, at the start of the 18th century: military engineering academies, mining academies, construction academies and also what were called "Realakademien" (business academies) which had a primarily commercial focus. The background to these newly-founded institutions was the growing need among the state's administrative bodies, military forces and businesses for specialists with a technical or scientific education. For states like the Habsburg Empire, by the end of the 18th century there was a further incentive: they wanted to catch up with England, which by now had a clear industrial lead, as quickly as possible and thereby also improve the state finances for the long term. The direct role model for the institution founded in Vienna was the "École polytechnique" that was established in Paris in 1795, while one of its immediate precursors was the "k. k. Realhandlungsakademie" (Imperial & Royal Business and Commercial Academy), later called the "Realschule zu St. Anna", which had been founded in Vienna by Georg Fischer in 1770. Ever since 1797, the "Studienhofkommission" (Imperial Commission on Education), which was responsible for education under the monarchy, had been considering creating a central technical college that would, naturally, be located in the imperial capital and royal seat, Vienna. These plans were initially interrupted by the wars against Napoleon. At around the same time, the Bohemian states undertook a similar initiative but with a rather more modest objective, with the result that an "Imperial Bohemian State Polytechnic Institute" opened in Prague as early as 1806.

The founding

On 4 April 1805, Emperor Franz II (I) (1768–1835) instructed the Imperial Commission on Education to produce a report on the question of establishing a polytechnic institute in Vienna. In March 1810, Johann Joseph Prechtl (1778–1854), then a professor at the Realschule zu St. Anna in Vienna, was commissioned to prepare a plan for the organisation and curriculum of such an institution. Prechtl produced his first draft that same year. Following several revisions, the final version was granted imperial approval on 31 August 1817 and this remained in force as the "Constitution of the Imperial & Royal Polytechnic Institute in Vienna" until 1865. Prechtl himself was appointed Director of the future educational institution on 24 December 1814. Shortly before that date, a suitable site for the institute had been acquired in the form of the Loséschen estate, formerly owned by the nobility, on meadows just outside the Kärntnertor gate (on what is now the Karlsplatz). The Imperial & Royal Polytechnic Institute was officially opened on 6 November 1815 and the first lectures began the very next day, in the existing buildings on the site which had been adapted for the purpose. Three professors (out of a planned total of eight) taught just 47 students. The foundation stone for what is now the main building on the Karlsplatz was laid on 14 October 1816 and the institute moved into the new building in autumn 1818.

Remit and organisation

Prechtl intended the institution to be – and this was, in fact, what was new about his concept – an institute like a university, with complete academic freedom for professors and students. According to the "Constitution" of the Polytechnic Institute in 1817, it was to have three areas of responsibility: 1. to serve as a technical educational institution focusing on science, 2. to be a "conservatoire for science and the arts" (nowadays we would call this a technological showcase) and 3. to establish an association for the promotion of "national industry". As a technical educational institution, the institute comprised a technical and a commercial department, and also a two-year preparatory course at a "Realschule". The task of showcasing the latest developments in commercial and industrial production in the Habsburg Empire and abroad for an interested public was fulfilled mainly by the creation of the "k. k. National-Fabriks-Produktenkabinett" (Imperial & Royal National Manufactured Products Cabinet). The basis for this was Emperor Franz I's collection of manufactured products which had been in existence since 1807 and which was donated to the Institute in 1815. The collection was steadily added to and expanded over the following years and decades. By the middle of the 1820s it already comprised about 17,000 objects, and at the turn of the century there were about 48,000. However, in 1912 a large part of the collection was given to the newly established Technical Museum of Vienna on permanent loan. Prechtl's project to create an association to promote trade was not realised, but that task was taken over by the Lower Austrian Trade association, which was founded in 1839.

The Royal & Imperial Polytechnic Institute until the reform of 1865/66

During the first half of the 19th century, the Vienna Institute was by far the largest institution of its kind in the Habsburg Empire. (As well as in Prague, similar institutions were established over time in Graz, Brno and Lviv). Its influence extended far beyond Austria's borders and it became the model for numerous newly established polytechnic colleges in cities in the German Confederation, for example in Karlsruhe in 1825 and in Hannover in 1831. Student numbers rose rapidly, especially in the 1830s and 40s, reaching a peak of about 1900 in 1848 that would not be surpassed for many years. Most of the students came from Vienna and Lower Austria, about 40-60% of them from other parts of the Empire and only a very few (less than 5%) from abroad. However, the number of professors did not keep pace with this trend - by the early 1850s it had only risen to 16. It was also during this initial period of growth that the building was extended, with the addition of the central section and the left wing. The Vienna Polytechnic Institute was also involved in the revolutionary events of 1848/49. Many of the students and professors organised themselves into their own Technical Corps in the "Academic Legion" of the militia. On 24 March 1848, lectures were temporarily suspended and, soon afterwards, soldiers were billeted in the building on the Karlsplatz who caused considerable damage to the building, fittings and teaching materials before they departed in autumn 1849. When teaching resumed in October 1849, the longstanding Director and founder Prechtl retired. His successor was the Professor of Mechanics and the Science of Machines, Adam (Ritter v.) Burg (1797-1882), but he was not allowed to remain in post for long: in 1851 some of the students and assistants at the institute, including Burg's personal assistant Cäsar Bezard, were involved in a treasonous scandal. Bezard was convicted and executed in 1853 and Burg was relieved of his post in 1852. The Polytechnic Institute was now regarded as "politically unreliable" and it was put under military leadership, initially in 1852/53 with Colonel Christian Ritter v. Platzer as Director, and then from 1853-58 with Colonel Karl Freiherr v. Smola. It was not until September 1858 that a civilian and a scientist again became Director of the institution, in the person of the former Professor of Mineralogy at the Joanneum in Graz, Georg Haltmeyer (1803-1867). That same year, the discussions about reform that had started back in the 1840s were resumed. After much consultation and negotiation, they resulted in a complete reorganisation of the institute, which was recorded in the new organisational statute approved by Emperor Franz Josef I on 17 October 1865. This new statute provided for the institute to be led not by a Director appointed by the government but by a Council of Professors, who would elect a Rector from among themselves. The Commercial Department was disbanded (after the Realschule had already been hived off in 1851) and the Technical Department was restructured to form a General Department and four "Fachschulen" (specialist schools): for roadbuilding and hydraulic engineering (School of Engineering), structural engineering (School of Construction), mechanical engineering (School of Mechanical Engineering) and technical chemistry (Chemical-Technical School). Furthermore, the Matura (university entrance qualification) was made a compulsory requirement for studying at the institute and a final examination, admittedly still voluntary - the so-called "strict examination" - was introduced for the first time. The new statute came into force for the 1866/67 academic year, and on 3 November 1866 the Professor of Higher Geodesy and Astronomy Joseph Herr (1819-1884) was elected as the first Rector.

The Imperial & Royal Technical University of Vienna

On 10 April 1872, the Imperial & Royal Polytechnic Institute was converted into a Technical University and academic freedom (which had been abolished in 1866) was reintroduced. The organisation's statutes were amended to this effect in 1875 and remained formally in force until 1945. The professors' wish to introduce the right to award doctorates was not initially granted but in 1878 state examinations at the end of the course were introduced. Only with the Ordinance of 13 April 1901 were Austrian technical universities given the right to award the title of "Dr. techn.". The first doctorates at the Technical University of Vienna were awarded on 22 February 1902. The premises also had to be extended to meet the growing demand. In stages between 1867 and 1898, a third floor was built on top of the whole main building, then in 1900-03 the Electrotechnical Institute was built on the site of the former Imperial & Royal cannon foundry on Gusshausstrasse, followed in 1907-09 by the side wing, which was accessed from Karlsgasse. Nevertheless, the Technical University, which had grown to have over 4000 students just before the First World War, continued to suffer from a lack of space.

The First World War and the First Republic

The effects of the First World War were soon felt at the university: student numbers fell from 3193 in 1913 to 1389 in 1914 and 825 by 1917. Many of the teaching staff were called up and the university's buildings were also requisitioned for military purposes: from 1914-1916 they accommodated a military auxiliary hospital and numerous laboratories were used for military research. However, even during the war, on 14 March 1917, a long-held wish of professors and graduates at Austrian technical universities was granted when the title of engineer was given legal protection. The year 1918 changed many of the factors affecting the existence of the Technical University of Vienna: not only did it lose the "Imperial & Royal" title from its name with the fall of the Habsburg Monarchy, but it also lost much of its former catchment area. On the other hand, from 21 April 1919, women were also allowed to enrol as full-time students on technical courses. Despite Austria's difficult economic circumstances, the university managed to grow during the First Republic, both physically and in terms of its organisation. For example, a series of new sub-departments were created (in 1920 for Technical Chemistry and for Combustion and Gas Engineering, in 1921 for Technical Physics and for Heating and Ventilation, in 1926 for Surveying), in 1923 master classes in Structural Engineering (Architecture) were introduced and in 1928 the Low-Voltage Institute was founded. That same year, the specialist schools were renamed faculties. With the foundation of an "external institute" and the "Association of Friends of Vienna Technical University" in 1925/26, the university began to raise its profile among the non-university public. It finally also succeeded in gaining more space, despite its limited resources, when it was left the Getreidemarkt site of the former Imperial & Royal Military School in 1919 and further floors were added to the main building in 1934/35.

The Vienna Technical University under National Socialism

The invasion by the National Socialists in March 1938 brought serious consequences for the Vienna Technical University: within the first few days and weeks, following the resignation of the then Rector Karl Holey and the Prorector Friedrich Böck, and the appointment of Rudolf Saliger as temporary Rector, two of the five Deans, 13 professors and two assistants were removed from their posts and replaced by National Socialists, a further 11 senior lecturers and 7 honorary lecturers lost their licences to teach and 3 lecturers and teachers stepped down from their teaching responsibilities. In total, about 10% of the teaching staff at TH Wien had to leave for political or "race" reasons. Jewish students were prohibited from continuing their studies, and after October 1938 from even entering the university, at least, if they met the Nazis' legal definition of "full Jews". The number of enrolled students of the Mosaic faith fell from 215 in the 1937/38 academic year to 16 in the summer semester of 1938. The start of the Second World War which followed soon thereafter led, like the 1914/18 war, to a further general reduction in student numbers (down to 538 in the 1944/45 academic year), although the proportion of female students increased sharply (to 119, about 20%, in 1944/45). Also in 1938, the university regulations of the German Reich were applied to Austrian universities. From then on, technical universities awarded the title "Dipl.-Ing." (instead of the previous "Ing.") and "Dr. Ing." (instead of "Dr. techn.") (this began at TH Wien in autumn 1944). From 1940, the I and II state examinations were replaced by diploma examinations and the number of faculties was reduced from five to three (Natural Sciences and supplementary subjects, Construction, Mechanical Engineering).

The Second Republic

After the end of the war, first of all those professors, students and other staff who seemed to be the most politically compromised were dismissed or not permitted to resume their studies. At TH Wien, that initially applied to 41 out of 56 professors (quite a few of whom did, however, return sooner or later). Of the 2404 students in the 1945/46 academic year, 55 were banned from continuing their studies and 416 were obliged to perform acts of atonement. From 1949 the academic title "Dipl.-Ing.", which had been introduced in 1938, was permitted as an official title in Austria, but state examinations were provisionally reintroduced. As early as 1945, the number of faculties was restored to five, until the University Organisation Act (HOG) in 1955 reinstated just three faculties (for Natural Sciences, for Civil Engineering and Architecture and for Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering). On 10 July 1969, with the Technical Studies Act (TechStG), diploma examinations were reintroduced in place of state examinations, and the title "Dipl.-Ing." was converted into an academic degree. On 1 October 1975, the new Higher Education Organisation Act (UOG 75) was introduced, under which the Technical University in Vienna, like all Austrian technical "Hochschulen", was renamed a "University of Technology". The faculties were restructured again. The Council of Professors, which had previously been the main decision-making committee, was dissolved and replaced by an enlarged Academic Senate, which now became the largest collegiate body. Since then, the Rector has been elected by the University Assembly.

The Technical Studies Act in 1969 also restructured the range of courses at technical universities. The number of fields of study was initially set at 10, with a total of 22 possible specialisms. These included "Information Technology" and "Spatial Planning and Development" which were newly introduced at TH Wien in 1970/71 and to which were added "Management and Business IT" in 1985 and "Business Engineering/Mechanical Engineering" in 1992. From the 1979/80 academic year, the short course in "Data Technology" replaced the short course in "Modern Computing". Since the start of the 1980s, the range of interdisciplinary postgraduate and university courses has been extended: since 1983, postgraduate courses in "Management, Law and Business Sciences" and "Technical Environmental Protection" have been available, and in the same year the Research Institute (since 1988: University Institute) for Technology and Society was founded. In the 1990/91 academic year, a university programme was introduced at the Interuniversity Centre for Computer Integrated Manufacturing (IUCCIM), and in May 1994 a working group called "TU-BIOMED" was formed, in which 27 institutes from almost all the faculties at TU Wien work together on teaching and research.

In 1990, TU Wien celebrated its 175th anniversary. Soon afterwards, with the second University Organisation Act in 1993 (UOG 93), a new institutional framework was established for Austrian universities; above all, this was intended to give them more autonomy, after they had already been given partial legal independence in 1988. Following UOG 93, the university was again led by the Rector and a newly convened Senate, supported by Vice-Rectors and an advisory university council. TU Wien converted to the new university organisation on 1 January 1999.

With effect from 1.1.2004, TU Wien, like all Austrian universities, was granted full legal independence under the Universities Act of 2002 (UG 02). Since then, it has been led by the Rectorate (the Rector and four Vice-Rectors) and a newly created University Council. In addition to the Senate being responsible for enacting the university's constitution and proposing candidates for the post of Rector, it also has the right to play a role in drawing up the university's organisational and development plans, and it has authority in certain study-related matters.

Since UG 02 came into effect, the organisational structure of TU Wien has changed considerably and the number of faculties has been increased from five to eight.

Archives of TU Wien

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