Adult education and training in Austria can look back on a centuries-old history; but it was not until the late 18th century that it was institutionally anchored (cf. Zagler, A. und Friesenbichler, B. 2012). This was the first time that education of large parts of the population came into the focus of policymakers: In 1774 Maria Theresa introduced a six-year period of compulsory schooling when she decreed the General School Regulation. Subsequently not only children benefited from the legally confirmed importance of education because CET options were also created for young people and adults, such as reading cabinets and reading societies, public libraries, etc.
In the 19th century, the first public education institutions were set up, and towards the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, emancipatory demands were raised by the working class movement and the bourgeoisie which led to the establishment of the predecessors of today’s adult education institutions (Volkshochschulen), in which renowned academics also played a leading part.
The more recent history of adult education and training (from 1945 onwards) was at first marked by this sector’s re-establishment after World War II until the early 1960s and its re-orientation until about 1970 which had been triggered by reforms. For the first time, significance was given to mass media, particularly TV and radio, as easily accessible educational media with a broad impact, and until the 1990s specific programmes were developed and broadcast by media networks.
From the early 1970s onwards, a period of criticism of common practice began, combined with the search for a new orientation of contents and legislation. The 1971 government declaration emphasised the growing importance of educational policy, which in the following year resulted in the foundation of the Austrian Conference of Adult Education Institutions, for instance, and in 1973 in the enactment of the Federal Financing Act on the Funding of Adult Education and Public Libraries from Federal Funds, a milestone in the recent history of adult education and training which, for the first time, created a legal basis which is still valid today in Austria for the establishment of federal adult learning institutions and financial support for adult education and training associations.
Current Policy Priorities
Many of the current policy measures that also affect adult education and training have their origin in the Strategy for Lifelong Learning in Austria – LLL:2020, which was drawn up after many years of discussions within the adult learning sector and adopted in 2011 by the Austrian government. In ten so-called action lines, goals and measures are defined in order to promote lifelong learning in all phases of life. The action lines which are relevant for adult education and training define measures such as the free acquisition of basic qualifications by adults and the safeguarding of basic competences in adult age by securing the budget for existing support programmes. Other objectives include the promotion of learning-friendly work environments, the further development of CET instruments (such as educational leave), and the establishment of a portfolio system to document CET activities. Moreover, procedures for the recognition of non-formally and informally acquired competences should become more visible by defining a coherent validation strategy and implementing competence balance schemes.
As a result of the LLL-strategy, in 2012 the Adult Education Initiative (IEB) (cf. chapter 8.4: Provision to Raise Achievement in Basic Skills and chapter 8.4: Provision to Achieve a Recognised Qualification during Adulthood) was launched by the federal and provincial governments. This initiative aims to enable adults who lack basic skills and/or have not acquired a compulsory school qualification to resume and complete their education and training and to obtain their qualifications even after completion of general compulsory schooling.
In February 2016, the Act on the Austrian National Qualifications Framework was adopted by the Austrian Parliament. In force since mid-March 2016, this act lays down the key aspects of the Austrian NQF, e.g. its structure, the descriptors, the governance of the NQF process as well as the allocation procedure. The Austrian NQF is a comprehensive framework to which all qualifications can be assigned. This applies to both governmentally and not governmentally regulated qualifications. This should, above all, raise the visibility and public perception of qualifications from the adult education and training sector and lead to a greater understanding of qualifications from this area.
After a development process lasting several years, the Strategy for the validation of non-formal and informal learning in Austria was adopted in November 2017. It is based on the recommendation of the same name by the European Council (2012 / C 398/01), in which member states were asked to develop nationally coordinated approaches and procedures with the help of which competencies can be made visible and thus validated. The Austrian strategy offers a common framework for the existing and emerging validation initiatives in order to promote their (further) development, coordination and quality assurance as well as to increase awareness and accessibility to validation offers. In the programme of the current government (2020-2024) reference is made to the VNIL-strategy, which should be further developed focussing on the integration of different educational areas and of different qualifications.
With the entry into force of the university legal package on Oct. 1, 2021, CET at HE institutions was put on a new footing. The same regulations and the same quality assurance regime for CET courses now apply to all four HE institutions (public universities and private HEIs, universities of applied sciences and university colleges of teacher education). In addition, this law also introduces the Bologna architecture to CET courses: in addition to already existing master degree courses, Bachelor degree courses (to the extent of 180 ECTS) are now being introduced. With the CET master’s degree, a doctoral or PhD programme can also be started in the future. There will be two directions of continuing education at HE institutes: scientific or artistic continuing education, which conclude with a bachelor's or master's degree and the title addition CE (for continuing education); as well as job-oriented higher education, which are designed and carried out in cooperation with a non-university educational institution and which conclude with the title “BA Professional” or “MA Professional”.