Main funding principles
In the Strategy for Lifelong Learning in Austria (‘LLL:2020’. Republic of Austria, 2011), objectives are established in the field of adult education:
- Increase the participation rates in non-formal continuing education and training in sparsely populated areas from 35.7 percent according to the Adult Education Survey 2007 to the participation rate in medium-density areas of at least 45 percent.
- Increase the proportion of employees who benefit from continuing education and training during working hours and only have a compulsory school leaving certificate as their highest qualification, from 5.6 percent in 2007 according to the Adult Education Survey to at least 15 percent by 2020.
- Implement the ‘National Qualifications Framework’ (NQF) by 2012 and a validation strategy for the recognition of non-formal and informal learning by 2015.
At the federal level, responsibility for general adult education lies with the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research (BMBWF). However, some adult education tasks are also located in other ministries. The BMBWF supports non-profit organisations in adult education. Requirements and criteria for granting subsidies are laid down in the ‘Federal Financing Act on the Funding of Adult Education and Public Libraries from Federal Funds’ (Bundesgesetz über die Förderung der Erwachsenenbildung und des Volksbüchereiwesens aus Bundesmitteln).
To encourage lifelong learning, state support for adult education by the federal government aims at the acquisition of knowledge and skills, the ability and willingness to judge and act responsibly, and the development of the personal talents of adults. Provinces and municipalities pursue similar goals with their support programmes. In this sense, state subsidies are awarded to companies organised under private law that are not profit-oriented in the field of adult education.
The federal government has concluded three-year service agreements since 2009 with the Austrian Conference of Adult Education Institutions (KEBÖ). KEBÖ is an organisation which brings together 10 important non-profit adult education associations. Here, binding goals are agreed and operational objectives are developed which are linked to the public funding for the respective institutions.
The European Social Fund (ESF) is a structural fund of the European Union and also supports projects in the field of adult education. The aim of the projects is the sustainable integration of disadvantaged adults in society, education and the labour market. Applications for ESF funding can also be made for projects aimed at removing barriers and creating equal opportunities as well as professionalisation and quality development. Project funding from ESF funds is co-financed by the BMBWF. The measures, which are administered by the federal government and financed with ESF funds, are subject to monitoring of the participants and providers as well as external financial controlling. In addition, accompanying scientific evaluations of the measures of the ESF adult education programme are carried out.
As well as subsidies for institutions (see below subsidies for providers), state funding for continuing education and training also covers the training expenses of public-sector staff. Essentially, these are the training expenses of civil servants and contract staff and all teaching staff in public and private educational establishments (schools and early childhood education) employed by public authorities.
Fees paid by learners
In principle, fees are charged for participation in adult and continuing education and training courses. According to the recent Adult Education Survey (AES), participants in non-formal education activities in Austria spent around EUR 330 on average. This includes expenses for teaching, enrolment, examinations, books or technical learning aids paid for privately by the participant (Statistics Austria, Adult Education Survey 2016/17).
On the one hand, the continuing company-based training of employees, which is free of charge for the majority of participants (about two-thirds to three-quarters) and also usually takes place during paid working hours, is exempt from fees.
On the other hand, there are certain free public courses financed by local authorities and supported by the ESF, such as
- programmes to acquire the compulsory school-leaving certificate as an adult
- and basic education courses.
For people who do not have a compulsory school-leaving certificate or basic reading, writing and numeracy skills to a sufficient extent, participation in courses in these areas is free of charge. The course costs incurred are covered entirely by the federal government and the provinces. In addition, at general education and vocational schools there are special forms for working people which are also accessible to adults as part of second-chance education and do not require any fees to be paid.
The fees to be paid vary greatly depending on the course being offered (scope, content, target group, provider, etc.). A one-semester language course of 20 practice units costs around EUR 150, while a four-semester course with an academic degree can cost EUR 15,000 or more.
Financial support for adult learners
The costs incurred by participants in adult and continuing education and training are covered by a range of support measures and programmes provided by local authorities, Public Employment Service Austria (AMS), interest groups (trade unions, Chambers of Labour and Commerce), associations or foundations. The website co-financed with ESF funds Erwachsenenbildung.at provides an overview of the various continuing education and training as well as funding opportunities in the adult education sector. It also contains a database that supports interested parties in their search for funding opportunities for initial and continuing education and training projects. The database lists a total of 124 different funding programmes in the adult education sector, with similar funding instruments in different provinces being counted individually. In most cases, a claim for financial support arises from a combination of socio-economic criteria (labour market status, educational level, age, income, etc.) and the presentation of a certificate of attendance at a certified adult education institution.
The majority of the grants are designed in such a way that the participants are reimbursed part or all of the course and/or examination costs. However, some grants also subsidise travel or living expenses. As a rule, certain groups of people (e.g. the unemployed, people with disabilities, people in need of social support, etc.) are supported. A prerequisite for the funding of course or examination costs is the presentation of a certificate of attendance or other certificate. In addition, some grants are linked to the main residence of the beneficiary. As a rule, only courses at certified adult education institutions (e.g. Ö-CERT) are funded.
Loans for initial and continuing education and training can be taken out from four private credit institutions (so-called ‘building societies’). The maximum amount of an educational loan is EUR 30,000 per person with a maximum duration of 12 years. (Source: Educational grants in Austria) (last accessed 04/10/2022).
Similar to grants, education vouchers are usually designed to reimburse part of the course or examination costs. Occasionally, mobility costs are also supported. In particular, the provincial departments of the Chamber of Labour use this instrument to promote adult education. In the case of the Chamber of Labour education vouchers, membership in the respective Chamber of Labour is required in addition to the presentation of a certificate of attendance.
Individual learning accounts
Individual learning accounts are used in individual provinces. Funding is usually provided from provincial budgets. As with grants and vouchers, the guidelines for individual learning accounts lay down various requirements (labour market status, educational level, participation, certified educational institutions).
As part of the employee assessment (tax return), people subject to income tax can deduct training costs from their tax. In principle, tax deductibility of costs is only possible for training programmes relevant for the particular occupation (language courses, IT courses, basic commercial training, etc.).
Under certain conditions, for continuing education and training purposes employees may agree with their companies to take educational leave or time off from work without payment of their salary. The educational leave is administrated by AMS. Only occupationally relevant qualifications with a course intensity of at least 16 hours per week are eligible for funding.
Subsidies for private providers
The Adult Education Initiative is a programme to provide educational opportunities in the areas of ‘basic education’ and ‘acquisition of the compulsory school-leaving certificate as an adult’ for people aged 15 and over residing in Austria. Since 2012, the Adult Education Initiative in Austria has been providing free basic education courses and the opportunity to graduate from lower secondary level (‘compulsory school-leaving certificate’) later in life. The Adult Education Initiative was launched in order to improve access to the labour market for people with inadequate minimum qualifications and to promote their social integration. The basis is an agreement pursuant to Art. 15a B-VG between the federal government and the provinces (RIS 2019).
In the ‘basic education’ programme area, the federal government doubles every euro spent by the provinces as subsidies per province and budget year. The planning costs specified in the agreement must not be exceeded. The use of ESF funds by the federal government can double the funds of the federal government and provinces (with the exception of Burgenland). The costs are therefore divided between the federal government (around 25%), the provinces (also around 25%) and ESF funding (around 50%).In the area of adult education, around EUR 15.5 million was made available each year between 2018 and 2021 to promote basic education. Over the entire period, subsidies amounting to around EUR 62 million were approved.
In the programme area ‘acquisition of the compulsory school-leaving certificate as an adult’, the federal government also doubles every euro spent by the provinces as subsidies per province and budget year according to planning data. The use of ESF funds by the federal government can double the funds of the federal government and provinces (with the exception of Burgenland). The costs are therefore divided between the federal government (around 42%), the provinces (also around 42%) and ESF funding (around 16%). In the period from 2018 to 2021, around EUR 12,3 million was provided each year. Administrative costs are borne by the entity in which they are incurred.