Each year thousands of people from around the world send their applications to Austrian universities. The high interest is due to the high quality and affordability of the educational programs. Often the number of foreign and local students in universities is the same. This can be observed in such prestigious institutions as the University of Vienna and the Universities of Innsbruck. Therefore, an international environment is characteristic of the country's educational institutions, and studying there is typically comfortable to any foreigner.

List and ranking of universities in Austria

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Advantages of universities in Austria

  • Affordable education. Due to the prestige of Austrian education, many believe that tuition fees at local universities are extremely high. However, this is far from truth: the cost of one semester in a state university for a foreigner is only 773 USD. For this, the student also receives benefits: free tickets to museums and theaters and a transport card.
  • University rankings. Austrian universities are famous for good education in medicine and economics. The Medical University of Graz and the Medical University of Vienna are ranked 24th and 27th respectively in THE Young University Rankings 2020. In addition to medical higher education institutions, Austria can be proud of its economic universities, which are considered to be among the strongest in the world. In the QS international ranking by the quality of teaching economics, the University of Vienna and the Vienna University of Economics entered the top-150 best universities. The universities of applied disciplines (Fachhochschulen) should also be mentioned, though they are not included in the world rankings because of their relative novelty. Fachhochschulen appeared in the country only in the early 1990s, and today they are already the main centers of economic education in Austria.
  • Employment. Graduates of Austrian universities are becoming highly sought-after specialists. According to the 2019 OECD report, 78% of Bachelor's and 87% of Master's and doctoral students in Austria are employed[1]. The rate of employment of graduates is also impressive. For example, bachelors from the Vienna University of Economics and Business get employed on average within 2.5 months after graduation, and graduates of the Master's program of the same university find a job even faster — within a month[2]. Moreover, degrees from Austrian universities are highly valued in the international market. National and foreign companies in other countries are eager to hire specialists with Austrian diplomas. Up to 25% of WU graduates move to work abroad in the long term.
  • A busy student life. The large number of international and local students means an active student life. Student organizations and hobby communities are present in almost all universities in Austria. For example, at the Graz Technical University there is a racing car design club and search-and-rescue robot programming club[3], the University of Innsbruck periodically hosts festival weeks and open concerts, and the Upper Austrian University of Applied Sciences has crazy boat races and mobile phone throwing competitions.
  • Liberal environment. Universities are quite flexible and liberal in their attitude to the learning process. For example, students make their own schedules, including exam dates. It sometimes happens that students may stretch their Bachelor's programs to as long as 6 years. Classes are stress-free, students feel calmer and, as a rule, free-thinking becomes an integral part of students' personalities.
  • Gender equality. Austria has a gender equality law that prescribes affirmative action in areas where women are underrepresented. The law applies to all public universities in Austria. Gender equality is the main principle and mission of higher education institutions. Universities actively increase the number of women in leadership positions, support female researchers and allocate special grants for women. Since the 1990s, every public institution in Austria is required by law to have a “Plan for the Advancement of Women” in its charter. Since 2015, the University Act also requires each state university to develop its own “Equality Plan”[4].

Disadvantages of universities in Austria

  • German language. Most of the programs at Austrian universities are taught in German. English-language programs exist, but are less common. Also, recently, the language requirements have become stricter: most universities have set the German language proficiency requirement at the C1 level. Nevertheless, universities accept applicants with a level of A2, but conditionally. In such cases, the candidate needs to take a preparatory course (Foundation programs) and improve their knowledge of German to the proper level.
  • Discrimination. Despite the desire of the government and universities to internationalize education, both local and foreign students face discrimination. Islamophobia, homophobia, racism and other types of aggression are mainly found in schools, but university students can also become victims of harassment[5].
  • Great responsibility. With a free atmosphere in Austrian universities comes great responsibility. A student will need to adapt to the local style of studying: control the schedule themselves, do homework, develop self-discipline and time-management skills.
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Admission requirements of Austrian universities

ProgramAgeDurationMin. costAvg. costLanguage requirementsExams
Foundation17+1-2 years350
3,827 USD/yearА2ÖSD А2, Goethe А2
Bachelor's17+3-4 yearsFree4,252 USD/sem.C1ÖSD Zertifikat C1, Goethe Zertifikat C1, TestDaF 4
MBA20+1-2 years13,819 USD/year26,576 USD/yearC1TOEFL 88 / IELTS 6.5
Master's20+1-2 yearsFree5,315 USD/sem.C1ÖSD Zertifikat C1, Goethe Zertifikat C1, TestDaF 4
Doctoral20+3-4 yearsFree2,923 USD/sem.C1ÖSD Zertifikat C1, Goethe Zertifikat C1, TestDaF 4

All prices and requirements must be checked on the universities’ websites.

In Austria, there is no unified student admission system, so all information about the requirements is posted directly on the websites of the universities.

The applicant is usually required to provide the following:

  • A copy of passport;
  • Certificate of completed secondary education / Bachelor's or Master's degree;
  • Studienplatznachweis (confirmation that the student has the right to be educated in a similar specialty at a higher education institution in the home country);
  • Proof of German or English language proficiency (diploma confirming education in German/English; or language certificates TestDaF/TOEFL/IELTS, etc.);
  • Motivation letter;
  • Letters of recommendation;
  • Research proposal or a project (for PhD candidates).

Some universities additionally arrange written exams, oral tests and interviews. Since 2019, entrance exams have been introduced for more programs. Details about admission and training are posted on the websites of universities and on the educational portal Studiversum (in German only).

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Types of educational institutions in Austria

Higher educational institutions in Austria are divided into the following categories:

  • Public / state universities (Universitäten, Fachhochschulen);
  • Private universities (Privatuniversitäten);
  • University colleges of teacher education (Pädagogische Hochschulen).

They obey different laws and are funded from different sources. The share of private universities is relatively small, about a fifth of all higher education institutions. Since the end of the last century, universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen) have begun to appear actively.

Agentur für Qualitätssicherung und Akkreditierung Austria (AQ Austria) is responsible for academic accreditation of higher educational institutions.

Austria also has Danube University Krems — university of continuing education. It focuses exclusively on postgraduate qualifications, such as Master’s degrees. In 2014, DUK started to implement doctoral programs. Other postgraduate institutions include the Institute of Science and Technology Austria and the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna.

Additionally, there are university colleges for teacher education in Austria (Pädagogische Hochschulen). They focus on the training of primary and secondary school teachers. In universities, research is carried out in pedagogical practice and educational theories. Public and private Pädagogische Hochschulen offer Bachelor of Education (BEd) programs that last 4 years (240 ECTS credits) and Master of Education (MEd) programs that last 1 year (60 ECTS credits). There are 14 such colleges in the country, 9 of which are public and 5 are private. For admission, you must know German at a level not lower than B2 and have a certificate of a completed secondary education.

Public and private universities

There are 22 public universities in Austria (Öffentliche Universitäten), which are the oldest and largest educational institutions in the country. Each of them differs in the method of teaching, research, and in their Third Mission. Therefore, the applicant needs to familiarize with each university in advance and choose the most suitable one. On average, about 75% of all graduate students study at one of 22 public universities[6]. For this reason, they can rightfully be considered the core of higher education in Austria.

The traditional general education universities of Vienna, Graz, Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Linz and Salzburg cover a wide range of study programs, while technical and medical universities of the country are focused on highly specialized areas. In Austrian educational institutions, research and teaching are seen as inseparable. Based on this principle, all academic fields try to develop interdisciplinarity.

The Öffentliche Universitäten receive government funding and do not charge tuition fees to EU citizens. Each university has autonomy guaranteed by constitutional law. Universities independently manage their own affairs, such as examinations and faculty.

There are only 16 private higher education institutions or Privatuniversitäten in Austria. They are not funded by the government, so they charge tuition fees to all students regardless of citizenship. Privatuniversitäten focus on various fields of study: from social sciences and economics to law, from medicine and theology to art and music. About 7% of all students study in private universities[7]. Study programs are based around traditional structure, but also use innovative teaching formats and methods. Privatuniversitäten are constantly developing and improving the quality of their programs through continuous internal and external evaluation of teaching and research. Private universities also undergo re-accreditations, which improve the quality of management, which subsequently affects the development of education. Admission criteria are not very different from those in public universities, however, English-language programs are more often found in private universities.

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Universities of applied sciences in Austria

There are 21 Universities of Applied Sciences, or Fachhochschulen (FH/UAS). They provide practical and vocational training for students. Fachhochschulen only award Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, but not PhDs. However, some universities offer professional doctoral programs in partnership with traditional universities. A distinctive feature of Fachhochschulen is a close connection between theory and practice: the educational process involves not only attending lectures and seminars, but also internships in companies. In the scientific life of UAS universities, the main focus is on applied research. A complete list of FHs can be viewed here.

Compared to other public institutions, universities of applied sciences are relatively young. This education sector was launched in 1994 and has shown rapid growth since then. In 2017, more than 20000 people out of nearly 69000 total applicants began their studies at UAS[8]. Therefore, Austria plans to develop Fachhochschulen even further. Unlike research universities, UAS are funded based on the number of places they offer.

Groups and association of educational institutions

  • Universities Austria (uniko) is a non-profit association that promotes the development of scholarships and research activities at Austrian universities. Universities Austria coordinates the activities of 22 public universities in Austria, represents them nationally and internationally and is the public voice of educational institutions. In addition, the association provides administrative and organizational support to the National Federation of Universities (Dachverband der Universitäten). Universities Austria is funded by membership fees paid by the universities themselves.
  • Association of Universities of Applied Sciences in Austria (FHK) supports universities of applied sciences in achieving educational goals. FHK represents the interests of its members, offers a platform for the exchange of experience and knowledge, acts as the voice of the UAS sector and as an expert on all issues of educational policy of higher education.
  • The Austrian Association of Private Universities (ÖPUK) comprises 16 private universities in Austria. ÖPUK aims to promote cooperation between higher education sectors and to represent private universities in education policy. The following working groups operate in the association:
    • Data protection;
    • Quality management;
    • Austrian librarians;
    • Marketing and communication.
  • Austrian Association for American Studies (AAAS) is an academic non-profit organization. It supports American research in Austrian higher education institutions and promotes transatlantic cooperation. AAAS has over 90 active members. Goals of the Association are:
    • Promote American research;
    • Promote the exchange of ideas;
    • Support scientists and research;
    • Expand cooperation in Austria and beyond.
  • The Association for the Promotion of Universities in Austria assists uniko and universities in fulfilling their day-to-day functions. Its activities are focused on communication and public relations issues. The members of the association are public and private universities in Austria, members of university administrations and local authorities.
  • Alliance of sustainable universities in Austria (Nachhaltige Universitäten) was founded in 2012 as an informal network of universities. The goal of the association is to promote sustainable development issues in Austrian universities and subsequently create a more sustainable society. 15 universities in Austria are members of the network.

Austrian universities in world rankings

Among Austrian Higher Education Institutions University of Vienna, Vienna University of Technology, University of Innsbruck and Graz University of Technology entered the top 300 in QS 2021 ranking. According to ARWU ranking, which evaluates universities in terms of their scientific potential, 7 Austrian universities were in the top-500 in 2020. Recently, higher educational institutions in Austria have begun to lose positions in the ARWU ranking, only the University of Vienna is consistently in the top-200. In many ways, this situation is a consequence of the reorientation of Austrian universities from scientific activity to practical courses that give students the necessary competencies for work.

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Top universities in Austria

The University of Vienna (Universität Wien) was founded in 1365. The university is the oldest and largest higher education institution in Austria. It occupies a leading position in the country by the number of students. More than 94 thousand students study at the university (including international students), and this is almost half of the total number of students in Austria, which is 200 thousand. In many disciplines, the University of Vienna is in the global top-100, history and religious studies are considered the best taught programs there.

Vienna University of Technology (Technische Universitat Wien, TU Wien) is the most prestigious technical university in Austria. The Vienna University of Technology offers topical programs taught by internationally renowned specialists. At the same time, the university cooperates with large companies, taking part in their projects. This allows students to engage in development from the very first days of study. The most popular educational programs are in the fields of IT and engineering.

University of Innsbruck (Universität Innsbruck). With the transformation of the Jesuit school in 1669 by Leopold I, the first king of Belgium, the University of Innsbruck appeared. This higher education institution competes with the University of Vienna for the title of the best university in the country: the top place in various national ratings is frequently occupied by one of these two institutions. Its strongest field of study is physics: most of the university’s budget is spent on its development.

The University of Graz (Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz) is the second largest university in the country, which was founded in 1585. It is one of the oldest universities in Austria. Until recently, it taught medicine, but in 2002, the Faculty of Medicine separated into the Medical University of Graz. This somewhat lowered the rating of the university, since medicine was its strongest direction. Nevertheless, the Faculty of Engineering remained at the University of Graz, to which many applicants dream of enrolling.

Johannes Kepler University Linz (Johannes Kepler Universität Linz, JKU) began its work in 1966. In the beginning, the JKU had been a college and only 10 years later it was awarded university status. Though its history might be short,the faculties of mathematics and engineering have already proven themselves noteworthy.

Free universities in Austria

Studying at public universities in Austria is free for EU citizens. If they do not complete their studies in the established timeframe, then they are given two additional semesters. If even then the student exceeds the expected time of study, they pay 408 USD for each subsequent semester. Tuition fees for citizens of other countries are 773 USD per semester. Private universities and universities of applied sciences charge higher tuition fees.

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Interesting facts about universities in Austria

  • The University of Vienna is the oldest university in the German-speaking world. It was founded in 1365. The university was also the center of the revolution of 1848 and contributed to important reforms in 1850. These included the struggle for more freedom for teachers and students, a seminar-based teaching method, and a wider range of subjects[9].
  • The campus of the Vienna University of Economics is Austria's most climate-neutral campus. However, CO₂ emissions are not excluded from the daily activities of the university: waste, heating, cooling, and electricity consumption at WU generate 1100 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. The university compensates for pollution by supporting the following environmental projects:
    • Switching to LED lighting systems as part of the charity initiative Förderung von Arbeit und Beschäftigung;
    • Provision of e-bikes to the staff of the Caritas4you association;
    • Introduction of cooking stations (clay ovens) in Rwanda. Stoves create jobs, help preserve the unique vegetation and biodiversity of eastern Rwanda, and improve the quality of life for families by reducing carbon dioxide emissions and smoke pollution[10].
  • Upper Austria University of Applied Sciences is known for its startup culture. University students have developed many successful startups in Europe[11]. It is not surprising: the university creates favorable conditions for young entrepreneurs. For example, the university has a Transfer Center for Company Start-ups that helps potential entrepreneurs. The center's experts test business ideas for liquidity and support the founders as they enter the market and increase sales. Until the end of 2014, 51 startups were supported[12].
  • To support students in need during the pandemic, WU Vienna launched the WU Helps initiative. As part of this program, the university sells face masks in university stores and online. All revenue goes to an aid fund for students facing financial difficulties[13].
  • The campus of the Johannes Kepler University Linz is unique to Austria, as most of the university buildings are located in one place. In addition, the campus is a recreation and entertainment area. Here students throw Mensa parties, play football, or just hang out with a cup of coffee or tea[14].
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