Oliver Gruber, Philipp Schnell
Journal of Contemporary European Studies
Publication year: 2023

Although populist radical right parties (PRRPs) are actively studied in recent years, few research has addressed their approach to education policy. Previously not considered one of their signature issues, this paper argues that education has become important for PRRPs too. In a case study of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), one of the most longstanding and successful PRRPs in Western Europe, we explore key pillars of the FPÖ’s educational positions and their development over time. Drawing on qualitative content analysis of party programs, election manifestos and plenary debates from 1990 to 2020, our analysis shows that the policy area of education has indeed become an ideological battleground for the FPÖ. Its educational positions are largely grounded in the ideological core of PRRPs and comprise a fundamental critique of mainstream parties’ dominance in educational institutions (anti-mainstream); a nativist division on all levels of education (nativism); the advocacy of merit-based educational institutions coupled with authoritarian instruments of schooling (merit); and a plea for more liberalisation and competition in schools (liberalisation). Over time, positions become more nuanced, albeit only within the already established traits. These findings corroborate theoretical arguments for the influence of growing party age and government experience on PRRPs’ positions.