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by Theo Bastiaens, FernUniversität in Hagen

For the main entry on this country see Austria

For material more focussed to schools see Austria/EL

For entities in Austria see Category:Austria

Austria in a nutshell

Map of Austria

Austria (German: Österreich), officially the Republic of Austria (German: Republik Österreich), is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It borders both Germany and the Czech Republic to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west. The capital is the city of Vienna on the Danube River.

The origins of modern Austria date back to the ninth century, when the territory of Upper and Lower Austria became increasingly populated. The name "Ostarrichi" is first documented in an official document from 996. Since then this word has developed into the Österreich.

Austria is a parliamentary representative democracy comprising nine federal states and is one of six European countries that have declared permanent neutrality and one of the few countries that includes the concept of everlasting neutrality in its constitution. Austria has been a member of the United Nations since 1955 and joined the European Union in 1995.

Austrian education policy

According to the School Organization Act of 25 July 1962 ‘it shall be the task of the Austrian school to foster the development of the talents and potential abilities of young persons in accordance with ethical, religious and social values and the appreciation of that which is true, good and beautiful, by giving them an education corresponding to their respective courses of studies. It shall give young people the knowledge and skills required for their future lives and occupations and train them to acquire knowledge on their own initiative’. The Austrian legal system guarantees general access to public schools without distinction of birth, gender, race, status, class, language or religion. Private sector schools, in contrast, may select pupils according to these criteria, although such selection is rarely applied.

In Austria, education has always been a most sensitive area, heavily disputed among political decision-makers. This explains the casuistic distribution of responsibilities between different bodies and entities. The existing legal framework therefore renders attempts at amending education laws very difficult. In 2007 the former Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Culture (Bundesministerium für Bildung, Wissenschaft und Kultur) was divided in Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture (Bundesministerium für Unterricht, Kunst und Kultur (BMUKK)) and Federal Ministry of Science and Research (Bundesministerium für Wissenschaft und Forschung (BMWF)). According to that reformation, the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research (Bundesministerium für Wissenschaft und Forschung) has responsibility for sciences, especially scientific research and higher level education. Federal Ministry of Education, Art and Culture is in charge for primary and secondary education, including general education, vocational schools and teacher training colleges.

As is the case with government administration in general, responsibilities for legislation and implementation in school education are divided between the Federation and the Länder.

Education System in Austria

File:Austrian educational system.gif
Austrian educational system

The Republic of Austria has a free and public school system, and nine years of education are mandatory. Schools offer a series of vocational-technical and university preparatory tracks involving one to four additional years of education beyond the minimum mandatory level. The legal basis for primary and secondary education in Austria is the School Act of 1962. The federal Ministry of Education is responsible for funding and supervising primary, secondary, and, since 2000, also tertiary education. Primary and secondary education is administered on the state level by the authorities of the respective states.

Federal legislation played a prominent role in the education system, and laws dealing with education effectively have a de facto constitutional status because, like Austrian constitutional law, they can only be passed or amended by a two-thirds majority in parliament.

Private schools

Private schools that provide primary and secondary education and some teacher training are run mainly, but by no means exclusively, by the Roman Catholic Church and account for approximately 10% of the 6,800 schools and 120,000 teachers. Roman Catholic schools have a reputation for more discipline and rigor than public institutions, and some are considered elite institutions. Because there is no tradition of private university education in Austria, the state has a virtual monopoly on higher education. This has been changing slowly in recent years as private universities become more commonplace.


The official term for Matura in Austria is Reifeprüfung. The document received after the successful completion of the written and oral exams is called Maturazeugnis.

In the Gymnasium (AHS = Allgemeinbildende Höhere Schule), which, as opposed to vocational schools, focuses on general education, the Matura consists of 3–4 written exams (referred to as Klausurarbeiten, 4–5 hours each) to be taken on consecutive mornings (usually in May) and 3–4 oral exams to be taken on the same half-day about a month later (usually in June). All examinations are held at the school which the candidate last attended. Candidates have the option to write a scholarly paper (called Fachbereichsarbeit) to be submitted at the beginning of the February preceding the final exams, which, if accepted, reduces the number of written exams by one. This paper also needs to be defended in an oral exam.

The grading system is the one universally used in Austrian schools: 1 (sehr gut) is excellent; 2 (gut) is good; 3 (befriedigend) is satisfactory; 4 (genügend) is sufficient and 5 (nicht genügend) means that you have failed. In addition, a candidate’s Maturazeugnis contains a formalized overall assessment: "mit ausgezeichnetem Erfolg bestanden" (pass with distinction: an average of 1.5 or better, no grade below 3), "mit gutem Erfolg bestanden" (pass with merit: an average of 2.0 or better, no grade below 3), "bestanden" (pass: no grade below 4); and nicht bestanden (fail: at least one grade 5). Candidates who have failed may re-take their exams in September/October or February/March of the following school year.

Compulsory subjects for the written finals are German and Mathematics, as well as a foreign language (usually English, French, Spanish, Latin or sometimes Ancient Greek).

The most striking aspect of the Austrian Matura is that it is a decentralized affair. There are no external examiners: Candidates are set tasks both for their written and oral finals by their own (former) teachers. Formally, however, there is an examination board consisting of a candidate’s teachers/examiners, the headmaster/headmistress and a Vorsitzende(r) (head), usually a high-ranking school official or the head of another school. All oral exams are public, but attendance by anyone other than a candidate’s former schoolmates is not encouraged, and indeed rare.

It is, of course, possible for Austrians of all age groups to take the Matura. Adults from their twenties on are usually tutored at private institutions of adult education before taking their final tests, held separately before a regional examination board.

Criticism of the Austrian Matura has been persistent. In particular, it has been argued that the current system encourages rote learning (see also education reform), hinders candidates’ creativity and obscures the fact that the body of knowledge is constantly changing. Various forms of alternative assessment have been proposed, most notably the portfolio as well as teamwork and peer review also in exam situations.

In fiction, Friedrich Torberg’s novel Der Schüler Gerber (1930) about a Matura candidate driven to suicide on the day of his oral exams by his cruel mathematics teacher has become a classic.

Austrian higher education


The country’s university system has been free until 2001, since then studies are subject to fees. (about 700 Euro per year) The General Act for University Education of 1966 and the University Organization Act of 1975 provide the legal framework for tertiary education, and the federal Ministry for Science and Research funds and oversees education at the university level. 23 public and 11 private universities enjoy a high degree of autonomy and offer a full spectrum of degree programs. Established in 1365, the University of Vienna is Austria’s oldest and largest university.

As a result of the reforms since the 1960s, the university system has changed from one serving the elite to one serving the masses. The increasing number of students at Austrian universities reflects the liberalization of educational policy at secondary and higher levels. Between the 1955–56 and 1991–92 academic years, the number of students enrolled in institutions of higher education increased from about 19,000 to more than 200,000. The number of students beginning university-level education after having completed the AHS program also increased and amounted to 85% in 1990, compared with 60% in the mid-1960s.

Traditionally, students were free to enroll at any (public) university and in any subject field they wished to. It is even possible to enroll in several subject fields concurrently (which is often done by gifted students to signal their abilities to the job market). Recently, restrictions in a number of fields have been introduced. Currently, the affected subjects are: Biology, Human Medicine, Dentistry, Veterinary Medicine, Pharmacology, Psychology, Journalism and Economic Sciences.

The reforms have also meant that university education ceased to be a male privilege. Between the 1960–61 and 1991–92 academic years, the number of female students enrolling in universities rose from 23 to 44%. Yet, although women account for almost half of the students at university level, only 2% of the professors at institutions of higher learning were women in 1990.

Despite the increase in the numbers of university students and the greater presence of women, universities remain primarily the domain of middle- and higher-income groups. The number of students with working-class backgrounds has doubled from 7 to 14%, and the number of these with agricultural backgrounds increased from less than 2% to more than 4% between 1960 and 1990. But children of white-collar workers, civil servants, and the self-employed accounted for more than 80% of enrollments at Austrian institutions of higher education in the early 1990s.

Increased accessibility to university-level education has a number of consequences. The dramatic expansion in the number of students led to overcrowding at many institutions. Some critics maintain that the increasing number of students diminishes the overall quality of university-level education despite increases in federal investment. One obvious problem was that more than 50% of students enrolled at the universities in the 1980s dropped out before obtaining a degree. Complex reasons account for this high drop-out rate. Some students simply enrolled to acquire student benefits, others study for the sake of personal enrichment without really intending to get a degree. Some are unable to complete their studies for financial reasons. Although a university degree provides students with a substantial amount of social status and better income opportunities, there has been an increase in “academic unemployment,” especially among degree-holders in the humanities and social sciences.

Fachhochschulen (Universities of Applied Sciences) since the 1990s During the 1990s, Austria introduced Fachhochschulen (University of Applied Sciences) in addition to the traditional universities. The training at these colleges is more tailored to practically applicable professional skills. Furthermore, students are allowed much less liberty in choosing which and how many courses they take during a given semester, which ensures that virtually all students graduate within the precscribed time (usually four years). Usually Fachhochschule graduates are required to take additional courses to transfer in order to regular universities for a doctorate.

Private universities since 2001

Accreditation of private universities started in 2001, based on a federal law (Universitäts-Akkreditierungsgesetz). Accreditation includes the right to legally grant academic degrees. The Akkreditierungsrat (accreditation council, [1]) evaluates applicants and issues recommendations to the responsible accreditation authority, the Federal Ministry of Education, Science, and Cultural Affairs. Accreditations must be renewed regularly and can be withdrawn, e.g. in case of repeated academic misconduct. In 2003, the accreditation of International University Vienna was withdrawn. In 2006, when the accreditation of IMADEC University expired, the accreditation council rejected the request for renewal. Today (2007), 11 private universities are accredited (listed here).

The Gehrer-Schüssel reforms

The former Minister of Education, Elisabeth Gehrer, of the Schüssel government, has enacted extensive reforms to the higher education system during the last years. Effective 2003, universities have become independent juristic persons and have been given considerably more discretion by the law to act without ministerial control. However, codetermination of professors, junior teachers and students has been replaced by a more hierarchical system with a powerful management on top. The university councils, whose members are in part appointed by the government, are in charge of appointing the senior managers (Rektorat) and overseeing their activity.

Three medical universities (Vienna, Graz and Innsbruck) have been separated from their previous almae matres, and after undergoing the appropriate accreditation procedure two other private universities have now been established. Newly appointed professors are no longer government employees, and universities are supposed to compete with each other.

In spite of the potential the increased flexibility gives to universities, there are some severe problems with the reform. First, budgets have not been increased (except to account for inflation), even though it is more expensive to hire professors as private employees, because of taxes and increased social insurance contributions.

More importantly, universities are still not able to select students for admission, and they are not permitted to penalize students who abuse free access to university and free choice in studies, e.g. by registering for courses and not turning up, which is harmful to more serious students and very costly as universities are unable to plan the number of courses needed. Moderate tuition fees, which were introduced in 2001, create a small incentive for students to graduate more quickly, but they have not eliminated this problem. At present, the structural conditions of competition between universities in teaching are, therefore, still loaded with problems.

Academic degrees

In Austria, there is no institution comparable to the American college or to the American professional school. Students enroll in one (or more) field of studies, in which they are expected to graduate after four to six years. Since the 1970s, the first degree was the Magister (= Latin for Master, abbr. Mag.) in the humanities, economic and social sciences, law and natural sciences. The first degree in engineering and agriculture is the Diplom-Ingenieur (abbr. Dipl.-Ing. or DI). Recently, and in accordance with the Bologna process, many universities have begun to introduce a Bachelor degree also, which comes before the "Magister" or Master.

Medicine is left as the subject where a doctorate is the first and only degree (after at least six years). In most subject fields, students need to submit a Diplomarbeit, a research paper of an average of about 100 pages, but sometimes considerably longer. As the requirements differ strongly and are not always clear, some students spend years working on this thesis, thus (usually not deliberately) delaying graduation.

Postgraduate degrees such as LL.M.s and MBAs have been introduced since the 1990s.

However, with the Bologna process, Austria has committed to transform its system to the structure of distinguishing between Bachelor and Master degrees (of 3 years and 1–2 years respectively). In some fields, it is still not clear how this will be made compatible with the traditional requirements necessary to enter a regulated profession.

The debate on reform

Debates about educational policy in Austria frequently are the result of different perspectives related to the strengths and weaknesses of the traditional education system. Proponents of the two-track secondary system, for example, defend it as performance oriented and criticize the leveling of achievement or lowering of standards the introduction of a single compulsory middle school would involve. Conversely, opponents of the two-track system criticize its rigidity and inherent absence of equal opportunity. Consequently, such bipolar terms as performance and leveling, elite and mass education, and achievement and equal opportunity prevail in educational debates. In some respects, Austrians of different political and educational policy persuasions may expect too many different things from one university system. They expect it to provide general education, as do state university systems in the United States, and “Ivy League” performance at the same time.

This page incorporates material from Austria: Country Studies Federal Research Division. See also Country Studies.

Virtual Learning Initiatives in Austria

No independent Open University exists in Austria. However, a cooperation agreement (see below) has been concluded with the German FernUniversität in Hagen(Open University in Hagen) in order to offer diploma and degree courses to prospective students in Austria. Therefore especially German offers are of considerable importance beside Austrian offers of Open University Education (see Best practice: examples of virtual Higher Education in Austria. The leading institution in the domain of Open University tuition and e-learning in Austria is the Johannes Kepler University Linz with its Open University Education programmes.

Many universities participate in e-learning/e-teaching „strategy projects” by using new media to improve higher level education. The main focus at this point is to ensure the quality and modernisation of apprenticeship. Five university-level institutions are currently offering more than 50 percent e-learning courses (Medical University of Vienna,Medical University of Graz, Krems IMC University of Applied Sciences, Voralberg University of Applied Sciences,and Salzburg University of Applied Sciences). Twenty-three out of 31 university-level institutions exceed the relevant scale limit of 5 percent in e-learning offers (see outcome of ordered Survey:”Strategy and implementation of using new media in apprenticeship nml-nib” by fnm-austria association).

Since 2000 the Gesellschaft für Medien in der Wissenschaft e.V. (GMW) (Society for media in science) is proposing an annual tri-national award (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), for supporting educational activities which are contributing to quality assurance and effective firm establishment of digital media in higher education: the medida prix. The award is supposed to initiate a structural change in institutions. Since 2008 the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research (BMW_F) has taken over the funding and patronage for medida prix. This year’s projects focus on the topic of “Open Educational Resources” to account for the worldwide trend of exchanging free knowledge resources. The ambition is to promote this movement in German speaking countries.

Best practice: examples of Virtual Higher Education in Austria

The following table highlights the initiatives considered to be important for virtual learning opportunities in Austria

Table 1

Nr Name Institution City Type
1. FernUniversität_in_Hagen FernUniversität in Hagen Hagen (D) Distance Learning university
2. Hamburger Fern-Hochschule in Austria Klett-Gruppe Hamburg (D) Distance Learning
3. Humboldt Humboldt Vienna(A) Distance Learning /Continuing Education
4. Institut für multimediale Linzer Rechtsstudien Johannes Kepler Universität Linz Linz (A) Higher Distance Education
5. Ferdinand Porsche FernFH FFH Gesellschaft zur Erhaltung und Durchführung von Fachhochschul-Studiengängen mbH Vienna(A) Distance Learning University of Appplied Sciences

1) As already stressed in the chapter “Germany” the FernUniversität_in_Hagen (Open University in Hagen) is the only state-maintained open university in German-speaking countries and regions, including Austria. The FernUniversität in Hagen has existed for 30 years and is an established institution in the scientific community. Since a Ministerial Agreement in 1980, particular relations exist between Austrian open educational facilities and the FernUniversität in Hagen. In 1994 this agreement was replaced by a cooperation treaty between the FernUniversität in Hagen and the University of Linz. Hence, Austrian students are also able to benefit from the open education system which combines study units with individual support, Net-based co-operation in seminars and working groups, on-line communication offers and face-to-face sessions. Contacts between students and tutors are available – especially for Austria – at “EuroStudyCentres“ with agencies in Bregenz, Steyr, Wien, Bad Goisern, Saalfelden and Villach. On-campus students can also participate in courses at the “Entwicklungssupportcenter & Infopoint” in Linz. The FernUniversität (Open University) is an alternative to on-campus studies with high-quality degrees (Bachelor, Master, ‘Diplom’, and Doctorate). Web site:

2) With more than seven thousand two hundred students, the Hamburger Fern-Hochschule is one of the biggest private institutions of Higher Education in Germany. It also offers study programmes in the business-, technology- and health sectors for Austrian students. As in the German division [[1]] the programmes are especially developed for people who are also in full time or part-time employment. In 3 regional study centres in Austria (Linz, Klagenfurt & Hollabrunn) students can apply for support near to their home. Students can start their studies either on 1st January or on 1st July. Web site: and for Austria:

3) Humboldt is the leading Open Education Institute in Austria and supervises together with the "Humboldt Matura Schule" about 9,000 students per year. The Humboldt Institutes are part of the largest European open learning school association. The majority stake is owned by the German Klett-Gruppe as well as the non-profit Foundation of the Vienna Mercantile Community/Vienna Economic Chamber.

Since late 2003 the Humboldt Business Akademie offers the following course: “Graduate Business Data Processing Specialist”. This degree requires 4 semesters and is especially attuned to employed people. The course starts in October; and offers an additional semester in summer, if required. Per semester 200 course units are held three evenings a week in Vienna. The course contains just partly open education elements which enables time and space independent learning.

With seventy-four percent, the Humboldt BildungsGesmbH is the majority shareholder of the first Austrian Open Learning University of Applied Sciences, called the Ferdinand Porsche FernFH. Web site:

4) The Law Faculty of the State University of Linz („Institut für multimediale Linzer Rechtsstudien”) organises and assists on behalf of the Johannes Kepler University Linz, a Multimedia Degree (germ.: „Diplom“) in Legal Studies. These courses are now offered following a four-year trial period which started in October 2002. According to official information 2,800 active students are registered worldwide. Five- to six hundred first-year students are registered per academic year. One thousand five hundred course-units are offered by 100 university and assistant professors per academic year. The students receive the study material for each examination subject from "media suitcases" (DVD’s, prints). They can take part in weekly electronic courses that are transmitted during the semester via the Internet ("live"). The Multimedia Degree in Legal Studies is achieved in 8 semesters which comprise 125 semester periods per week with 2 study parts. Each part will be completed by a Diploma examination. The Multimedia students pay – like all students at an Austrian State University - a state study fee of approximately EUR 380 per semester. Web site:

5) The Ferdinand Porsche FernFH offers a full Bachelor degree course in Business Information Technology. It has been accredited in August 2007 by The Council of the University of Applied Sciences. Further degree courses (Master degree course in Business Information Technology, Bachelor & Master degree course in Marketing Research/Management & Human Resources Management) are pending at present, but planned for late 2009. The accomplishment of these degree courses is made possible through cooperation with the Humboldt BildungsGesmbH and University of Applied Sciences Wiener Neustadt. Web site:

There are actually 85 admissions p.a. at the Ferdinand Porsche FernFH founded by Austrian Federal Funds. Due to this, students have to pay only the common state study fee of approximately EUR 380 per semester.


See also links in the text.

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