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The Austrian-Serbian network of students and graduates was officially established on 21 December 2017 in the premises of the Embassy of Austria in Belgrade, with more than 100 members of the Network present. We were especially delighted to see the members coming to Belgrade from all parts of Serbia to mark the network‘s establishment – two ladies came all the way from Novi Pazar

Among about 100 participants were people from various industries who spent part of their lives being educated in Austria. Among them were doctors, economists, lawyers, representatives of social sciences, artists and students who had attended one or more faculties in Austria during their stay abroad. Sabine Kroissenbrunner

The event was opened by the Minister Plenipotentiary and Chargé d’Affaires Sabine Kroissenbrunner, who in her address noted that the goal of this Network is not to encourage emigration but, on the contrary, to contribute to the return of “the best minds” to Serbia. Because they can make an important contribution to the country’s development and bilateral relations between Austria and Serbia.

As an honorary guest, the event was attended by Prof. Helmut Konrad, former Rector, Dean of the University of Karl Franz in Graz and pioneer in launching alumni networks in Austria. Konrad shared his experience of such networks and emphasised the unique nature of the network initiated by the Embassy, since this is not a matter of preserving contact between the university and students, but is about a diversity of contacts and bonds between the two countries (and many institutions).

Connecting people who have spent part of their lives in Austria to receive an education should be seen as great potential. In such a network, new ideas can emerge and develop. According to this historian, a network of students and graduates contributes to a better understanding of history and culture.

What are the goals of the Network?

Relations between Austria and Serbia are closely intertwined and have many touchpoints. One of the essential aspects of these relations is education. For students from Serbia Austria is one of the favourite countries to study in. And not just recently, but the tendency to study in Austria is based on a long-standing, even centuries-old tradition. Some of the most important Serbian intellectuals studied in Austria, among them Vuk Karadžić, Nikola Tesla and Ivo Andrić.

Relations between Austria and Serbia are closely intertwined and have many touch points.  One of the essential aspects of these relations is education

In recent years, many students have not returned to Serbia after completing their studies abroad, and unfortunately, they have thus contributed to a large brain drain. It is therefore important for us to support their return to Serbia as much as possible, also by maintaining fruitful relations with Austria in the professional and educational sphere. The brain drain needs replacing by a circular brain train.

Nearly 200 members of the Network registered in a very short time, which shows great interest and the need for action.

It is important for us to encourage exchange among students and graduates and to initiate joint projects and events. Many members of our Network are artists, so we hope to receive their contribution to the Network as well.

Plans for the future

We want to organise all kinds of events and training in a wide range of fields. In January, for example, we had two events in cooperation with two universities in Austria that are very active in the Western Balkans, who presented their projects.

In the future, we are planning joint events with partners from the Network, the Austrian Cultural Forum, the Austrian Foreign Trade Centre, the Austrian Institute – in particular, lectures in the field of business, a language café and cultural events. It is also important that the members initiate and develop their own projects and events.