6.1 General context
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Public schooling is free in Austria, and young people (parents) are in principle able to freely choose the school of their choice. Teaching materials, school meals and transport to and from school are generally provided free or at low cost. Recent policy changes involve the initiative 'Education until 18', aimed at increasing the number of young people in education and training. Statistics Austria provides statistics on the development of the attendence and completion of secondary schools and tertiary education, as well as on early school leavers and NEETs. The regular Student Social Survey also documents the degree of social permeability in Austrian higher education.
Education until 18
The Federal Government has decided that all youth until 18 years of age are required to complete an education beyond compulsory school, as it is an important goal to ensure that all young people have a solid education to enable them to organise their future life independently and to become active members of society. The Education until 18 (AusBildung bis 18) programme was initiated - a joint project of the social partners, the provinces, relevant institutions and companies as well as several ministries (the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection, the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research, the Department for Youth at the Federal Chancellery).
As of the school year 2016-2017, it is compulsory after year 9 for every young person to attend a higher secondary school or a training course by law. The main focus here should always be to provide individual support to young people, taking into consideration their wide range of interests, abilities and needs. Education until 18 is intended to improve the coordination of the many offers available, to use them more efficiently and to close gaps in the range of programmes offered. Areas which will be (further) developed here include support in making choices of education/training, avoiding dropping out of schools and courses, preparation for higher-level training courses for disadvantaged young people, and apprenticeships in companies or in specially organised workshops. Education until 18 shall thus contribute to lowering the number of early school leavers and fostering social inclusion through education.
According to Statistics Austria, the number of students in general- and new secondary schools (Hauptschulen and Neue Mittelschulen) decreased to 207 898 (lowest figure in more than 50 years) in the school year 2017/18. Meanwhile, first-stage secondary academic schools (AHS-Unterstufe) reached their highest number of attendances (119 591) ever. The number of students enrolled in second-stage secondary academic schools (AHS-Oberstufe) increased by 5.0% over the last ten years (in 2017/18 92 193).
In 2017/18, a total of 143 544 pupils were enrolled in secondary technical and vocational colleges (BHS), a decrease of 1.0% compared to ten years ago. 63 152 students attended crafts, technical and arts colleges, which was a slight decrease after its highest level in the 2015/16 school year. There was also a decrease in the number of attendances in colleges of business administration (37 083 pupils in 2017/18; -15.5% compared to 2007/2008) and in colleges of management and the service industries (26 496; -6.1%). Whereas the number of students in colleges of agriculture and forestry (3 910; +7.4%) increased.
Youth education attainment level
According to Statistics Austria, when compared internationally, the youth education attainment level in Austria is relatively high, but was slightly decreasing over the last years. This indicator is used to measure the proportion of 20 to 24 year olds who have at least an upper secondary qualification. The youth education attainment level in Austria was 86.1% in 2020 (annual average) (EU-27: 84.0%).
Early school leaving and NEET statistics
According to Statistik Austria, the number of early school leavers in Austria as a proportion of the corresponding age group decreased since the mid-1990s over a longer period. Recently increasing figures were observed which, however, still stay significantly below EU average. In 2020, the proportion of early school leavers was 8.1% (EU-27: 10.1%). Consequently, a total of around 52 000 young people in Austria had no further educational qualifications and did not pursue educational activities at that time, of whom almost 32 000 were young men and 20 000 were young women.
Statistik Austria also collects data on young people neither in employment nor in education and training (percentage of the population of the age group 15 to 24 years who is not employed and not involved in education or training, NEET). In Austria, the number of NEETs is below the EU average and has decreased since 2004. In 2020, 8.0% of young people (women: 6.9%, men: 9.0%). The EU-27 average of the NEET rate is 11.1% (2020).
High-school graduation statistics
‘According to Statistics Austria, in 2017, a total of 42 723 students passed their school-leaving examinations qualifying for university attendance (Matura) in Austria. Since 1960, the number of graduates has increased almost fourfold despite a declining overall population. Only as a result of the introduction of the standardized school-leaving exam, the number of graduates decreased from the all-time high of 44 462 students passing the Matura in the school year 2014. Less than half of the school-leaving certificates were obtained at academic secondary schools (AHS) - in 2017 the proportion was 42.7%. A large number of pupils obtained their school-leaving certificates or diplomas from technical and vocational colleges.
Another striking change is found in the relative numbers of young men and women. Females were severely under-represented in 1960, accounting for less than one third of all high school graduates. Over the past few years significantly more women than men have gained the Austrian school-leaving certificate qualifying for university attendance (Matura). In 2017, 57.5% of all high school graduates were female.’
According to Statistics Austria, the university level has been significantly expanded in recent years (introduction of Universities of Applied Sciences/Fachhochschulen and Bologna Process). In the 2019/20 academic year, 264 945 regular students were enrolled at public universities, a decrease of 1.4% compared to the previous year. In the thirteen accredited private universities, 12 177 regular students were enrolled in 2019/20 – an increase of 5.9% compared to the previous year. Universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen), introduced in 1994/95, educated 55 203 students in the academic year 2019/20.
Tertiary education attainment level
According to Statistics Austria, the tertiary attainment level of 30 to 34 year olds in Austria has risen continuously over the last years. The indicator is used to measure the proportion of 30 to 34 year olds who have a tertiary qualification according to the International Standard Qualification of Education (ISCED). Tertiary education comprises university degrees (Bachelor, Master, PhD) as well as short-cycle tertiary education (such as “BHS-Matura”, “Meister-” or “Werkmeisterprüfung”). The tertiary educational attainment level in Austria in 2020 (annual average) was 41.6% regarding the 30 to 34 year olds (EU-27: 40.9%).
Lifelong Learning Statistics
According to Statistics Austria, the ‘lifelong learning’ structural indicator amounted to 11.7% in 2020. About 7% of the population aged 15 years and older participated in continuing training during the last 4 weeks. Both indicators have decreased by 3 points compared to 2019. The data is to be viewed in the extraordinary context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Student Social Survey on students in higher education (Sozialerhebung 2019)
The Institute for Advanced Studies (Institut für Höhere Studien, IHS) carried out the Student Social Survey 2019 on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research. The survey was supervised by a project advisory board containing representatives of the Universities Austria Association (uniko), the Association of Universities of Applied Sciences in Austria (FHK), the Rectors’ Conference of Austrian Universities of Education (RÖPH), the Conference of Austrian Private Universities (ÖPUK), the Austrian Union of Students (ÖH), the Agency for Quality Assurance and Accreditation Austria (AQ Austria) and the Austrian Science Board.
The survey, which has been carried out at regular intervals since 1970 and covers a wide spectrum of topics relating to the social situation of students, is one of the most important sources of information and a key decision basis for higher education policy in Austria. In spring 2019, all students in Austria received an e-mail from their higher education institution inviting them to participate in the online survey.’
The survey inter alia showed that 46% of the Austrian population enroll in higher education in Austria - women significantly more often than men (54% vs. 39%). The proportion of foreign students of 22% is significantly above the European average. Persons with a migration background are about half as likely to enroll as people without a migration background. 60% of all students (66% of Austrian students) are ‘first generation’ students (meaning that their parents are not academics) in higher education – a high percentage also in comparison with other European countries. Nevertheless, students whose parents have a higher level of education, are overrepresented at higher education institutions compared to the domestic resident population.
The structure of the Austrian educational system is also detailed on Eurydice. A graphical representation of the system by the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research is attached bellow:
All children and young people permanently residing in Austria are subject to general compulsory education (Schulpflicht), which starts in September following the child's sixth birthday and lasts for nine years. Since 2016, young people who have completed compulsory schooling have to enroll in a further education or training measure (or a measure preparing for such a measure) until they reach the age of 18 ("Ausbildungspflicht bis 18").
Levels of the Austrian Educational system
Primary level (4 years)
- Primary School
- Special Needs Education
Lower secondary level (4 years)
- New Secondary School
- General Secondary School
- Academic Secondary School - Lower Cycle
- Special Needs Education
Upper secondary level (1 or 4-5 years)
- Pre-Vocational School (1 year)
- Preparation Year for Work (1 year)
- Special needs education (1 year)
- Part-time Voc. School and Apprenticeship (Dual Training) (4 years)
- Academic Secondary School - Upper Cycle (4 years)
- School for Intermediate Vocational education (4 years)
- College for Higher Vocational Education (5 years)
Post-secondary and tertiary level
- Post-secondary VET course
- School for master-craftsmen
- University College of Teacher Education
- University (Mag., Dipl.-Ing., BA + MA, BSc + MSc, BEd + MEd, Dr., PhD)
- University of Applied Sciences
Information on Specific School types
Pre-vocational School (Polytechnische Schule) follows the 8th grade and includes another grade. In the 9th or voluntary 10th year of school, pupils are prepared for life, and especially for their working life, by further general education, professional guidance and basic vocational training. An orientation period at the beginning of the school year and professional guidance as a principle of teaching provide a range of opportunities for learning more about the world of work. The choice of career is supported by exploration of businesses and professions in the scope of training workshops and extracurricular institutions, as well as one-day internships (mini-apprenticeships) in companies. Basic vocational training is offered in specialised areas (elective subjects). They correspond to broad occupational fields in the economy, and basic skills, abilities and knowledge (key skills) are acquired. Action and work-based learning encourage the individual talents as well as the learning motivation of pupils.
Academic Secondary School (Allgemeinbildende höhere Schule, AHS) comprise a four-year lower level and a four-year upper level, and conclude with the upper secondary diploma (Matura). The upper secondary diploma entails the entitlement to study at Universities, Universities of Applied Sciences, University Colleges of Teacher Education, and other colleges.
Forms of Academic Secondary School
- Gymnasium with a special focus on languages, humanities and the arts
- Realgymnasium with a special focus on natural sciences and mathematics
- Wirtschaftskundliches Realgymnasium with a special focus on economics and life skills (including in practical terms)
Special Needs Education (Sonderpädagogik) provides integrated lessons and inclusive education and thus opens up the possibility for disabled, non-disabled children and young people to have a shared learning experience. Pupils with special educational needs may be taught by way of integrated training in a Primary School, Secondary School, New Secondary School, the Lower Cycle of Academic Secondary School, Pre-vocational School and the Domestic Science School. Integration in pre-vocational school, as well as domestic science schools, have been legally established by the amendment filed under Federal Law Gazette I, no. 9 / 2012. The relevant changes in fundamental provisions of the School Organisation Act (Schulorganisationsgesetz (SchOG)), School Education Act (Schulunterrichtsgesetz (SchUG)) and Schooling Obligation Act (Schulpflichtgesetz (SchPflG)) entered into force on 1 September 2012.
Special Needs School (6 to 15 years of age) consists of nine grades. The final grade is a vocational training year. With the approval of the school board and the consent of the school provider, Special Needs School may be attended for a maximum of twelve years. The Austrian special needs education system consists of ten divisions. The pupils receive basic general education from specially trained teachers, as well as by individual teaching methods, which is intended to provide a basis for further vocational training or the attendance of Secondary Schools.
Part-time Vocational School and Apprenticeship (Dual traineeship) (Berufsschule, BS) is obligatory for young people who have concluded an apprenticeship agreement with an instructing employer (business) or a traineeship institution (training institution). The Part-time Vocational School and Apprenticeship curriculum comprises general educational, business, theoretical technical and practical compulsory subjects, as well as optional subjects and non-examined classes. As an alternative to continuing their education after completion of compulsory schooling, pupils may choose to enter this dual training system. The apprenticeship involves on-the-job training (80%) plus compulsory attendance of vocational school courses (Berufsschule, 20%) and ends with a final examination. There are more than 200 recognised apprenticeship trades in many different fields. Roughly 39% of young people leaving compulsory school in any given year enter apprenticeship-based training. Those who have completed their apprenticeships may move on to attend schools for master craftsmen/craftswomen or foremen/forewomen.
As part of the initiative Apprenticeship with Matura by the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research, apprentices have the opportunity to attend preparatory courses for the higher education entrance examination during their apprenticeship. Three exams may be completed during the apprenticeship, and the final exam upon turning 19 years of age. The preparatory courses and exams for the higher education entrance examination are free of charge to apprentices.
School for Intermediate Vocational Education (Berufsbildende mittlere Schule, BMS) lasts for one to four years. BMS with a training period of one or two years result in partial vocational training. BMS with a training period of three or four years result in full vocational training. Graduates gain the relevant professional qualifications of the Commercial Code. After a minimum BMS of at least three years, supplementary courses (three years) lead to matriculation and diploma examinations. There are special forms of professional colleges for graduates of four-year technical schools.
College for Higher Vocational Education (Berufsbildende höhere Schule, BHS): Higher Technical and Vocational Schools impart higher vocational training as well as a broad general education, and conclude with a matriculation and diploma examination after five years. The diploma entails the entitlement to study at Universities, Universities of Applied Sciences, and Colleges of Teacher Education; it also permits the employment in legally regulated professions under Commercial Code. The recognition of relevant professional knowledge for graduates of BHS for universities and colleges is required by law; authorisation according to engineering law applies for graduates of higher technical and agricultural schools.
Postsecondary VET course (Kolleg) Colleges offer a two-year (two to three years for working professionals) higher vocational training equal to higher vocational schools or educational institutions and conclude with a diploma examination. The graduates attain the professional qualifications of the corresponding BHS.
Tertiary education careers
A matriculation examination, vocational matriculation examination or higher education entrance examination is a prerequisite for these degree courses. For some colleges and higher schools, there are special admission opportunities for graduates of relevant professional four-year colleges or with complete vocational qualifications.
At University (Universität) courses in the humanities and cultural studies, engineering and arts, teacher training programmes for teachers in higher secondary schools (two teaching subjects), medical, natural sciences, law, social and economic sciences and theological studies are offered.
In the 2015/16 academic year, new professional training for those studying in the field of primary education has been available at University Colleges of Teacher Education nationwide.
Universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen) offer science-based vocational training with an emphasis on vocational orientation (at least one practical semester is included in the course).
According to the Federal Constitutional Law (Bundesverfassungsgesetz), the fundamental principles of education in Austria are:
- peace and justice
- openness and tolerance towards everyone regardless of race, social status and financial background
According to the School Organisation Act (Schulorganisationsgesetz) 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 religion, language or gender, although such selection is rarely applied.
The Austrian school system (Das österreichische Schulsystem) aims to educate pupils in order for them to become young, self-determined people who know their strengths and talents and see their perspectives in a changing society in the digital age. They shall be enabled to seize the opportunities available to them to master their private and professional lives and to become active members of society, who know the importance of democratic co-determination and co-design. Another goal of the Austrian school system is to let pupils follow the educational path that is best suitable for them individually.
Educational principles in Austrian schools (Unterrichtsprinzipien)
- Reflexive gender education and gender equality (Reflexive Geschlechterpädagogik und Gleichstellung)
- Health promotion (Gesundheitsförderung)
- Intercultural education (Interkulturelle Bildung)
- Reading education (Leseerziehung)
- Media education (Medienbildung)
- Political education (Politische Bildung)
- Sex education (Sexualpädagogik)
- Environmental education for sustainable development (Umweltbildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung)
- Road safety and mobility education (Verkehrs- und Mobilitätserziehung)
- Economic and consumer education (Wirtschafts- und VerbraucherInnenbildung)
- Promotion of gifted students (Begabungs- und Begabtenförderung)
- Education and career orientation (Bildungs- und Berufsorientierung)
- Education for sustainable development (Bildung für Nachhaltige Entwicklung (BINE))
- Development education (Entwicklungspolitische Bildung)
- Intellectual national defence (Geistige Landesverteidigung)
- Equality between girls/boys and women/men (Gleichstellung von Mädchen/Buben und Frauen/Männern)
- Global education (Globales Lernen)
- Literacy promotion (Leseförderung - Literacy)
- Project teaching (Projektunterricht)
- Linguistic education in Austria (Sprachliche Bildung in Österreich)
- Educational standards in general education (Bildungsstandards in der Allgemeinbildung)
- Educational standards in VET and competence-oriented teaching (Bildungsstandards in der Berufsbildung und kompetenzorientiertes Unterrichten)
Current reforms and projects
- Pedagogy package (Pädagogikpaket) - bundles five central measures in order to intensify competence-oriented teaching in primary schools, (new) middle schools, all lower secondary schools and in upper secondary schools throughout Austria
- Digital school (Digitale Schule) - combination of modern, digital infrastructure and inspiring, forward-looking pedagogy
- The education reform 2017 (Bildungsreform 2017) - the autonomy package created creative leeway in form of more pedagogical, organisational and personnel independence of schools
- The new upper school level (Neue Oberstufe) – in order to foster the sustainable acquisition of competences by the pupils, their personal responsibility is promoted and a careful handling of their learning and life time is undertaken
- Ethics lessons (Ethikunterricht) – introduction of the compulsory subject ‘ethics’ for all pupils who do not attend religious education classes
- German Support Classes (Deutschförderklassen) - pupils who are unable to follow lessons due to insufficient German language skills have been taught in own German support classes or courses parallel to lessons since 2018/19 in order to ensure equal opportunities and better integration into the class group. The aim is the early and intensive learning of the language of instruction German, so that these pupils can be taught together in class as soon as possible.
- Autumn holidays (Herbstferien) - the introduction of nationwide standardised autumn holidays is intended to optimise the compatibility of family, work and school and to avoid a long teaching period in the winter semester
- School trial nursing training (Schulversuch Pflegeausbildung) - 300 students start training in the field of nursing. School trials are planned in the area of colleges for social professions and at the higher educational institutions for social care and nursing
- Summer School (Sommerschule) - the summer school is a two-week programme for the individual and targeted support of pupils and the consolidation of German as a language of instruction in order to counteract impending educational disadvantages due to different framework conditions during the school closures as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic and to enable good preparation for teaching in the coming school year
Higher education: Universities
Austrian universities (Universitäten) make an important contribution to the education of young people and an innovative future of the Austrian market. A characteristic of universities is their duality of excellent teaching and excellent research. Universities train future scientists who pass on their knowledge to the next generation and at the same time advance their own research activities. The 22 public universities differ in their size, their in some cases centuries-old history of origin, as well as in their focus. They offer a wide variety of programmes. Currently, more than three quarters of all students study at one of the 22 public universities, which form the heart of tertiary education in Austria. Universities are distinguished by the fact that they conduct teaching and excellent research at the highest level and that Article 81c of the Austrian Federal Constitution (Bundes-Verfassungsgesetz) guarantees theirautonomy as separate legal entities under public law. The universities are largely self-governing, even though they are financed by the public sector. For this purpose, the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research concludes performance agreements with the universities every three years, in which, in addition to a global budget, certain objectives are agreed (e.g. in the area of examination activity, supervision ratios or with regard to academic staff (basic research performance). Furthermore, Art 17 of the Basic Federal Constitutional Law on the General Rights of Citizens (Staatsgrundgesetz über die allgemeinen Rechte der Staatsbürger) guarantees the freedom of science, research, and its teaching.
Universities of applied sciences, on the other hand, are predominantly financed by the number of study places they offer. The 21 'Fachhochschulen' in Austria have very different focuses, ranging from agricultural technology and multimedia art to physiotherapy and industrial engineering. Their hallmark is their aim of scientifically based vocational training at university level.
National Qualification Framework
The National Qualifications Framework (NQF) form the foundation for a transparent presentation and a comparison of qualifications. The NQR in Austria is divided into 8 levels, which are orientated towards learning outcomes. Each of the eight levels is characterised by different descriptors made up of knowledge, skills and competencies. A legal foundation was developed in 2015. The development process was headed by Austria's Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research and involved all target groups represented in the NQF steering group. The government bill was submitted for opinions in autumn and was then adopted by the National Council in spring. The law was published in the Federal Law Gazette for the Republic of Austria on 21 March 2016. Implementation of the NQF can now be formally finalised based on this law.
Life-long Learning and institutions of 'adult education'
Life-long learning addresses both adults as well as young people from the age of 15. It consists of a variety of educational institutions with different objectives and educational opportunities. The training ranges from general education, basic education and remedial training, education qualifications as part of Second-Chance Education, vocational offerings, to management classes and courses for personal development, through to university courses and university education. Furthermore, in 2011 the Austrian strategy for lifelong learning 'LLL:2020'was adopted by the federal government.
At schools for professionals and tertiary training institutions, individuals who have already started their professional life or have completed vocational training have the opportunity to acquire relevant qualifications in the form of evening classes. There are secondary and higher vocational schools of general education for professionals, advanced training programmes, colleges and academies. There are also continuing education courses at universities and colleges; the latter also offer additional university of applied sciences courses for working professionals.
Institutions of adult education funded by the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research, such as adult elementary education, vocational training institutes, business development institutes and a number of non-profit regional adult education institutions offer general education, vocational education and training measures. An important task of adult education is the development and implementation of an adult-oriented and target-group adjusted programme, and the high-quality educational and vocational guidance to enable access to lifelong learning by way of educational information/advice, provision of basic education/ basic skills, acquisition of educational qualifications, etc. Further education colleges in all provinces of Austria provide either free or low-cost courses with a large variety of subjects for every age group. Currently, there are 272 further education colleges in Austria.