Briefly about secondary education in Austria

Education for schoolchildren in Austria is compulsory from ages 6 to 15. After grade 9, students can choose a vocational or general education direction. High schools are divided into:

  • Pre-professional schools (Bildungsanstalt für Elementarpädagogik, Bildungsanstalt für Sozialpädagogik) — teacher training colleges that accept applicants after the 8th grade (grades 9-13). Bildungsanstalt für Elementarpädagogik focuses on educating and caring for children from ages 1 to 6 and work in nurseries, kindergartens. Bildungsanstalt für Sozialpädagogik trains child and youth counselors. After them, you can go to universities;
  • Part-time vocational schools (Berufsschule, grades 10-13) — additional specialized training. Sometimes serves as an addition to on-the-job training;
  • Secondary technical and vocational schools (Berufsbildende mittlere Schule, grades 9-12) — provide students with basic special knowledge and skills for employment in the field of engineering, trade, arts and crafts, commerce, etc.;
  • Colleges of higher vocational education (Berufsbildende höhere Schule, grades 9-11, grades 12-13) — allow students to work in the same fields as after secondary technical schools, but in higher positions. After them, you can also go to a university;
  • Gymnasiums (Allgemeinbildende höhere Schulen, grades 9-12) are aimed at preparing the student for university education.

Given the variety of secondary schools and qualifications, students make decisions about their future quite early, which often leads to the wrong choice of profession. Therefore, Austria is now developing a more acceptable secondary education system.

There are also private schools in Austria. Most of them are run by the Roman Catholic Church. Such institutions have a reputation of being more selective and strict than public schools, and some of them are considered elite.

Since 1960, education in Austria is no longer a prerogative of the elite, but a national property. Many foreign students are interested in studying in the country. There are many reasons for this: the world class universities are located here, tuition fees are low, and safety and a high standard of living promise interesting and prosperous student years. Located in the heart of Europe, Austria is renowned for its cultural and scientific achievements in various fields, from classical opera to automotive engineering. According to the survey of international students on the website StudyPortals, Austria is one of the best countries for education: it was rated 9 out of 10.

Advantages of education in Austria

  • Cheap education. Public universities in Austria are free for EU citizens, and for the rest, tuition costs only 788 USD per semester. At the same time, one does not have to worry about the quality of education: here it is of the highest quality. According to the international QS ranking 2021, 8 universities of the country made it into the list of the world’s best universities, and 11 according to THE ranking. It is worth considering that in some universities of applied sciences and in private universities, the cost of training may be significantly higher, but it is still not comparable to the cost of studying in the United States or the UK.
  • Comfortable learning. Educational programs in Austrian universities are famous for both liberal arts, especially in the fields of religious studies and theology, and natural sciences, the strongest areas of which are astronomy and physics. Other countries, like Germany, France and the UK can boast this as well, but the advantage of Austria is that it is a small country with a developed infrastructure, and many universities are located in small towns, where everything is available in a few minute walk radius.
  • Liberal atmosphere. The pace of learning in Austria is quite relaxed. Here local students can extend their studies up to 6 years. The almost free education and the long timeframe to complete it, create an atmosphere of freedom and leisure. In general, professors do not put pressure on students and are always ready to help them. Also, students independently choose subjects, topics of term papers and theses and even appoint dates for exams.
  • Excellent living conditions. The state has beautiful nature and architecture, a high level of safety and social security, a prosperous economy and stability. Austria is the 2nd country after Switzerland in terms of quality of life, according to the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2019[1]. At the same time, the Expat Insider rating ranks Austria the 6th for the same index. Vienna has become the best city in the world to live in multiple times. In the Quality of Living Survey 2019 by the Mercer Group, the capital of Austria has been awarded this title for the 10th time in a row[2].
  • Rich cultural life. The birthplace of Strauss and Mozart offers a wide range of musical and cultural entertainment for international students. Cheap tickets for opera, ballet and symphony concerts, student discounts for famous festivals such as Salzburg and Vienna, visits to Kunsthistorisches Museum, Albertina, or Palais Liechtenstein art museums diversify the student's life and enrich his personality culturally.
Disadvantages of education in Austria

  • Expensive life. Accommodation in the center of Vienna will cost about 1,084-1,625 USD per month, and in the suburbs — 650-867 USD. These figures do not include utility bills and the Internet, which will add another 217 USD in your monthly bill. To save money, you can rent an apartment for several people (Wohngemeinschaft, WG). It is very popular with students in Austria. For example, a room in an apartment will cost about 379-423 USD per month. An additional option for accommodation can be a dormitory, which includes both double rooms and separate two-story rooms with a kitchen. You should book a place in a dormitory in advance, approximately 6 months before the start of your studies. It should be noted that it is difficult to find accommodation, especially in dormitories, as there is a large number of arriving students. As soon as tenants put up rent offers, the apartments get booked almost instantly, so those who have not succeeded in finding housing sometimes have to postpone their studies and just leave.
  • High percentage of expulsions. Austria has a record student dropout rate of 50%. The lowest dropout rate could be seen in Vienna Medical University: only 23% of students leave the university without a degree. However, for most universities in Europe, this figure is very high. This is largely due to the fact that in universities students are perceived as young researchers who have a good understanding of their area of ​​interest. In the case of yesterday's schoolchildren, this does not always correspond to reality. Nevertheless, the reduction of expulsions is included in the Austrian National Development Plan for Public Universities, which is in place until 2024[3].
  • Freedom to schedule. At first, it is unusual for some students to compose their own schedule and select their own subjects. Here you need to consider the time and coordinate the schedule yourself so that the sequence of different lectures does not overlap. It may also turn out that certain days will be packed with classes, while the rest will be free. Moreover, the classes fill up quickly, so you need to register for them as early as possible.
  • Language barrier. If you do not speak German, then living in Austria will not be easy. In large cities, one can still do with just English, and in small towns, residents speak only German and often with a specific Austrian dialect. Moreover, in the provinces, the attitude towards foreigners is wary and not always hospitable. And finding a job without knowledge of the German language will be almost impossible. Therefore, the applicant is advised to start learning German in advance, even if the study itself will be in English.
  • The unfriendliness of the locals. Despite the fact that there are a large number of foreign students in Austria (for example, in 2017-2018, 26% of all students in the country were foreigners), Austrians are not particularly friendly[4]. For some foreigners, locals can even seem rude due to their directness and honesty. Expats evaluated the criteria of friendliness and the ability to find friends in Austria as quite low: the country ranks 4th and 7th in the aforementioned ranking, and that is counting from the very bottom of the list[5]. Also, Austrians are often called xenophobes and even racists. The situation is better in cosmopolitan Vienna and other big cities. A prospective student should take this into account when choosing a country of study, but not dwell on this too much. Local residents need time to get used to aliens, and the international community in universities and cities will not let an active student get bored.

Cost and structure of education in Austria

Type of studyAgeDurationMin. costAvg. costLanguage requirementsExams
Summer camp6+1-5 weeks401 USD/week867 USD/week--
Language courses16+1-52 weeks206 USD/week325 USD/weekA1Rented locally in schools
Secondary education10+11-12 yearsFree32,510 USD/year


University preparation17+1-2 years379 USD/semester3,901 USD/yearA2ÖSD Zertifikat А2, Goethe Zertifikat А2
Bachelor's17+3-4 yearsFree4,335 USD/semesterC1ÖSD Zertifikat C1, Goethe Zertifikat C1, TestDaF 4
Master's20+1-2 years788 USD/semester5,418 USD/semesterC1ÖSD Zertifikat C1, Goethe Zertifikat C1, TestDaF 4
MBA20+1-2 yearsFree27,091 USD/yearC1TOEFL 88 / IELTS 6.5
Doctorate20+3-4 yearsFree2,980 USD/semesterC1ÖSD Zertifikat C1, Goethe Zertifikat C1, TestDaF 4

All prices and requirements must be checked on the university websites.

Foundation programs in Austria

The OeAD organization implements training programs for the university. They prepare foreign applicants for additional university admission exams and for study in German. These programs can be in:

  • German as a foreign language;
  • English, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, history, geography.

University preparation programs are present in Vienna, Graz and Leoben.

All Foundation students have university student status and are issued student cards. Detailed information about the preparatory programs can be found here.

There are also preparatory courses and international Foundation programs at the universities themselves:

Vocational education — FH in Austria

Previously existing college programs were introduced to the Universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen) (UAS/FH)[6]. FH offer students a professionally oriented higher education in bachelor’s programs (6 semesters) and master's programs (2-4 semesters). The studies can be full-time, part-time, or short-term for working students. The curriculum consists of practical activities and compulsory vocational training. The latter can take place in Austria or abroad. Such internships usually last 15 weeks. At the end of the training, students write their theses.

FH provides over 650 degree programs in areas such as business, engineering and IT, social sciences, media, design, medicine. In total, there are more than 20 universities of applied sciences in Austria. About 80 programs are taught entirely in English.

To enter, you will need:

Additionally, admission tests are conducted, for example: an exam, interview, testing, portfolio review or group games. Application deadlines and requirements depend on the program and the university. It is worth noting that the number of applicants usually exceeds the number of study places at universities. The cost of studying at FH ranges from 1,625-2,167 USD per year.

UAS degrees are equated to research university degrees. Therefore, graduates of master's programs from universities of applied sciences can enter traditional universities for doctoral studies. FH programs can be found on the website of the Austrian Universities of Applied Sciences Portal .

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Bachelor’s in Austria — Undergraduate

Bachelor’s programs are held by research universities and universities of applied sciences. Education is offered in a variety of disciplines, for example: arts and humanities, economics, engineering, law, medicine, veterinary medicine, natural and social sciences, education, theology.

Typically, bachelor’s programs last for 4 years in engineering and 3 years in other fields. The number of ECTS credits is 180-240. Austrian universities do not have a fixed curriculum: the student himself chooses the schedule, professors and exam dates. At the end of their studies, students take final exams and defend their graduation work.

Master’s in Austria — Graduate/Postgraduate

Master’s programs are offered by private, public and universities of applied sciences. Before Austria joined the Bologna Process, the Master's degree was merged with the Bachelor's degree and lasted much longer. Such programs were called the Diploma program (Diplomstudium) or Magister. Now they can still be found in some universities (about 6 years of study), but most universities have switched to standard master's programs. They usually last 2 years at universities and 1-2 years at Fachhochschulen.

The curriculum includes compulsory and elective courses. During the first year, students learn general subjects, and in the second year, turn to elective disciplines. All master’s students do research and write term papers and/or dissertations. For some one-year programs at Fachhochschulen, academic work is not required. In other cases, the thesis is worth about 20-40 ECTS credits and its defense takes place orally. Throughout their studies, students attend lectures, conduct research, and work on group and individual projects.

Doctoral studies in Austria — Postgraduate

Universities in Austria implement doctoral studies in various fields of science. Some programs are general and cover a wide range of disciplines, while others are structured and focused on research of specific topics. The latter are usually offered at selected doctoral schools (Doktoratskollegs) created by universities.

Doctoral studies in Austria last from 3 to 4 years. Often, the duration of study depends on the student's qualifications: with a master's degree, doctoral studies will last 3 years, without it (with a bachelor's degree) — 4.

The first part of the study includes usual lectures and seminars aimed at gaining knowledge and developing research skills. Towards the end of the first year of study, candidates choose a thesis topic. Once it is approved, the remaining time is allocated to writing a scientific paper.

In Austrian universities, PhD candidates are often assigned two academic advisors. The delivery of the thesis takes place in the form of presentation and oral defense (Rigorosum) before the commission.

In Austria, there is an opportunity to work during your doctoral studies. This is how the student becomes an employee of the university and receives a salary. In return, he teaches, helps in labs, and does paperwork.

Academic career in Austria

The career ladder of a professor in Austrian universities usually includes 4 stages:

  • PhD — a pre-doc assistant at the university;
  • Universitätsassistent — a non-tenured Assistant;
  • Assistenzprofessor/assoziierter Professor — an Assistant/Associate Professor;
  • Universitätsprofessor — a tenured Professor.

There are other non-tenured positions:

  • Lektor — part-time teachers, hired on a temporary or permanent basis;
  • Projektmitarbeiter — project assistants, hired at the time of research, usually funded by external agencies;
  • Leitende Dozenten — the same as the Assistant position, but with teaching duties only;
  • Senior Wissenschaftler/Künstler — the same as the Assistant position, but with additional duties (for example, working on a project).

To start an academic career, PhD candidates start working already while studying at the position of Universitätsassistent. Then the researcher becomes an Assistant Professor. Over the next 6 years, the scientist should be successful in research and teaching. Sometimes he is required to additionally obtain the Habilitation qualification. After that, the Assistant automatically moves to the permanent position of Associate Professor. It is not easy to become a full-time professor in the future, since there are often no vacancies in universities. Moreover, the professor must have an excellent track record of research and teaching success.

Professors are selected and hired by a special committee organized by the University Senate. Contracts can be temporary or permanent, full-time and part-time.

The size of a professor's salary depends on the position and length of service. Thus, an assistant professor who has worked for up to 6 years receives an average of 3,251 USD per month, and those who have been working for more than 10 years — 5,418-6,502 USD. For the position of a professor, the salary ranges from 4,335 USD to 7,044 USD[7].

Foreign candidates for a professorship in Austria are not required to be fluent in German at the time of application. However, universities generally expect an applicant to learn German at an academic level within a short time. Therefore, the scientist is advised to start learning the language in advance. It should be noted that often the internal staff of the university has priority in the selection of applicants.

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Opportunity to work while studying

Nationals of EU member countries, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein are eligible to work in Austria without any limitations or additional requirements.

At the same time, according to Austrian law, international students from the rest of the world have the right to work no more than 20 hours a week. The salary will be around 379 USD per month. Knowledge of the language for work is advised, especially in small towns. Positions that a student can have are usually the simplest ones: waiter, courier, etc. It should be kept in mind that before starting work, the boss must issue a work permit (Beschäftigungsbewilling), and its issuance is limited by a quota set by the Austrian government. This can be an obstacle to successful employment in the country. If the student intends to undertake a paid internship, a work permit will not be required.

Also, students have the opportunity to work without permission (Werkvertrag). These can be one-time results-oriented services (for example, addressing 1000 envelopes). When performing this work, the student should not be bound by a fixed time and place of work. However, here you need to be careful and understand exactly the difference between contract work and the services provided by self-employed (Werkvertrag). The legal consequences of illegal labor can cause deportation from the country. Therefore, before starting work, the student is advised to contact the Labor Chamber (Arbeiterkammer, AK) or the State Employment Service (Arbeitsmarktservice, AMS) and consult about the legality of the work.

Opportunity to stay and immigration to Austria

Graduates from the EU/EEA member states and Switzerland enjoy the opportunity to stay and work in Austria with no further requirements.

As for citizens of other countries, after graduation from an Austrian university, they have the right to stay in the country for 12 months to look for a job or start a business. To extend the residence permit, you must provide:

  • Proof of funds. For a person who is unmarried, the monthly income must be 1,048 USD;
  • Medical insurance, covering all risks;
  • Proof of residence in the country (such as a rental contract).

If during this year a young specialist has found a position corresponding to his qualification level, he can receive a work permit (Red-White-Red Card). Requirements for obtaining this permit are:

  • The minimum salary must be at least 2,619 USD per month (for 2020);
  • The same requirements as stated above.

The cost of applying for a Red-White-Red Card is 130 USD. The initial validity period of the card is 1 year, subsequently it can be renewed for 3 years.

The required documents and details are listed on the Federal Government for Immigration to Austria website.

Job prospects and opportunities

It will not be easy to find a job in Austria after graduation. Firstly, knowledge of the German language is mandatory, and secondly, it is worth remembering that Austria is a rather conservative country, where ‘who you know’ plays a role in job search, so it would not hurt a foreigner to start networking as early as possible. However, the country's economy is stable and prosperous: in 2019, the unemployment rate in Austria was only 4.67%[8]. The state itself is ranked 13th in the list of the richest countries according to the IMF in 2019[9].

In Austria, almost all sectors of the economy are developed, in particular the service sector (tourism, finance, legal advice), industrial production (electrochemistry, engineering, mechanical engineering, machine tools, equipment manufacturing) and agriculture[10]. Also, job prospects depend on the specialty of the graduate. Highly paid specialists in management, financial services, marketing, consulting, accounting, sales and business[11].

When looking for work in other European countries, it is necessary to take into account the peculiarities of a particular state. For example, knowledge of the German language will come in handy when applying for a job in Germany. In general, an Austrian diploma, like almost any European one, is highly regarded in many countries of the world.

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