Semester question

Each semester, the University of Vienna poses its academics a question that is of particular relevance to today’s society. You can find all current contributions by the University of Vienna’s academics in the Rudolphina magazine or on our social media channels under #SEMESTERFRAGE. The University of Vienna runs this project in cooperation with the Austrian daily newspaper "Der Standard" – starting with online contributions and ending with a closing event at the end of the semester.

Please note: Detailed information about the individual semester questions is only available in German.

Semester question 2024: Do we know what AI will know?

graphic showing the Semester question 2024: Do we know what AI will know?

Since the launch of ChatGPT, the conversation around artificial intelligence has entered the mainstream. This new technology is radically changing our perception of knowledge and learning, of knowledge production and knowledge transfer. How can we define knowledge in a world in which information is increasingly generated and made accessible by machines? What opportunities but also risks do researchers and teachers of the largest educational institution of Austria see in this regard?

Semester question 2023/24: What is our future made of?

graphic showing the semester question 'What is our future made of?'

From the Stone Age to the plastic age: materials enable innovations, but also harbor dangers. Researchers at the University of Vienna are working on the materials of the future - what can they do and how will they change our lives?

Did you know?


In addition to the semester question, various campaigns have also been implemented at the University of Vienna in recent years. You can find a detailed overview of these here.

Semester question 2023: Planet and humans: Can we still be saved?

Graphic with semester question "Planet and humans: Can we still be saved?"

Humans have relatively recently appeared in the earth’s life system – yet, in no time, they have developed to become its determining factor. We change the planet through our behaviour daily and, in the long run, unsettle the balance of its regulatory system. In doing so, we endanger the livelihood of humans living in the present and the future. How can we still influence the current developments? In the summer semester of 2023, academics of the University of Vienna from different disciplines discuss sustainable solutions for planetary health.

Sermester question 2022/23: How does digitalisation affect democracy?

Graphic with the semester question How does digitalisation affect democracy?

The Austrians’ confidence in politics has decreased dramatically. We can see this issue not only in Austria. Our academics are conducting research on digital change to increase the security and transparency of decision-making processes, such as elections. Their aim is to find new ways of political participation and to prevent manipulations. They investigate digital education, artificial intelligence and legal foundations, while always keeping an eye on our democracy and remaining genuinely curious. Since 1365. Learn more about this in Rudolphina, the research magazine of the University of Vienna.



Semester question 2022: What shapes human behaviour?

graphic with text *semester question: what shapes human behaviour?'

We make most of our decisions without much thought, and only when something is different from what we are used to do do we become aware of our behavior. This has developed over generations and is determined not only by genes and evolutionary heritage but also by our individual development, our (learning) experiences and environmental influences. How do these factors interact when it comes to meeting the major challenges of our time? In the summer semester 2022, we will look deep into human history as well as into the future together with our researchers to learn more about the foundations of human behavior.

Semester question 2021/22: What do we still value?

Sujet for semester question "How do we humans affect the earth?" with a picture of earth taken from the orbit

"A piece of things as usual, please!" Who has not wished for normality? The coronavirus has restricted our personal, social and economic life for a long period. But do we really want to go back to our 'usual' routine? Studies show that the pandemic has changed our value system. Numerous people indicate that they changed their consumption behaviour, are more considerate of their well-being or wish for reduced working hours. Simultaneously, increasing social inequalities are imminent globally. In the winter semester of 2021/2022, experts from the University of Vienna are addressing the semester question "What do we still value?" and discuss, among others, the value of work and social justice.

Semester question 2021: How do we humans impact the planet?

Sujet for semester question "How do we humans affect the earth?" with a picture of earth taken from the orbit

The age of humans – the so-called Anthropocene – is confronting us with major questions about the future: What about global warming? What are the effects of environmental pollution on nature, animals and human beings? What demographic trends are shaping the world? What changes must societies, the economic world and politics initiate? In interviews, videos and blog articles, the semester question of the University of Vienna in the summer semester of 2021 attempts to identify the burning questions about the Anthropocene and demonstrate the answers academia can provide.

Semester question 2020/21: What substances have a future?

The entire world is awaiting a vaccine or a drug against the coronavirus. What academics from the University of Vienna are accomplishing to fight COVID-19 and for which developments they see a future is at the heart of this semester question. Moreover, the question also focuses, among others, on new substances for cancer and pain therapy. Which methods allow for the transport of drugs directly to a sick cell or for the delivery of vaccines through the skin? How can big data, microbiome research and high-tech chemistry support modern substance design? These and many more topics are discussed as part of the semester question "What substances have a future?" in the winter semester of 2020/2021.

Semester question 2020: How does language make a difference?

In the summer semester of 2020, the semester question focuses on the impact of language. What role does language play in developing our identity? How does the human brain acquire a language and how do we translate our thoughts into language?  The semester question gets to the bottom of how language can be used as a tool for manipulation in media, advertising and politics. Starting from March, experts from the University of Vienna answer the semester question in videos, interviews and blog entries: How does language make a difference?

Semester question 2019/20: How can we protect biodiversity?

Biodiversity is the basis of our well-being. Food production, prosperity, the protection against natural hazards and many more depend on stable biodiverse communities. However, the number of intact habitats is decreasing rapidly and about every fourth animal and plant species is threatened with extinction. In Austria, almost one third of all species assessed are on the red lists of endangered species. How can we counteract this loss? The University of Vienna tries to answer this question in the winter semester of 2019/20.

Semester question 2019: How will we work tomorrow?

Semester question 2019

Ranging from flexible working hours, Industry 4.0 and the gig economy, to a universal basic income: There are as many possible scenarios of the future of work as there are expert opinions. The way we are going to work also depends on how we want to work. This summer semester, academics and students of the University of Vienna will discuss the political, social and technological changes that shape the development of the labour market and their consequences for working people.

Semester question 2018/19: What unites Europe?

Semester question 2018/19: What unites Europe?

Europe is more than a geographical entity – Europe is based on a shared history and culture. Achievements such as the German reunification in 1989 and the enlargement of the EU in the following years are now in danger of fading due to nationalist and protectionist movements. So, what unites Europe? This question is highly relevant and goes beyond the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union as of July 2018 and beyond the upcoming elections to the European Parliament in May 2019. What are the significant factors for strengthening Europe? How can Europe cooperate better in the future? Academics and students of the University of Vienna will discuss these issues as of autumn 2018.



Semester question 2018: How can we save our climate?

Semester question 2018 - How can we save our climate?

When Arctic ice melts and glaciers retreat, sea levels rise. Thawing permafrost releases carbon in the form of methane in large amounts. Carbon dioxide produced by human activities is making the oceans more acidic, making it difficult for marine species to build their carbonate skeletons. Forest fires, whirlwinds, severe droughts – extreme weather events become more frequent. What can we do to stop ongoing climate change? This is what the University of Vienna’s current semester question is about.

Semester question 2017/18: How much does democracy mean to us?

In 2018, Austria celebrates 100 years of democracy – time to critically analyse our democracy and talk about its future. Tendencies toward a European decline, Brexit, migration, fake news, right-wing populism – democracy has to cope with many challenges. How can we sustain or further develop democracy as the bedrock of our value-based society? This is what the University of Vienna’s semester question in the winter semester is about. 

Semester question 2017: Health from the lab – what is possible?

In the "post-antibiotic era", ordinary bacterial infections can become a lethal danger. At the same time, the microbiome provides us with unprecedented opportunities for individual therapeutic approaches to certain diseases. Today’s drug designers are working towards more efficient methods of drug production to keep our society healthy. Will they succeed, when, at the same time, more and more food comes from the lab? These issues are currently discussed at the University of Vienna.

Semester question 2016/17: How are we living in tomorrow’s digital future?

How can we preserve human dignity and the quality of life when technologies take decisions for millions of people? This was one of the central issues discussed in the winter semester of 2016/17. What consequences can we expect when machines communicate with each other in the Internet of things, when robots support us in our daily lives and medical diagnoses based on data mining become day-to-day business?

Semester question 2016: How does migration change Europe?

In the summer semester of 2016, the semester question focused on Eastern and Western Europe drifting apart due to the refugee crisis in the autumn of 2015, requirements for a successful and sustainable integration in Austria as well as the impact of migration on the legal system and its limitations.