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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Main types of provision


8.Adult education and training

8.4Main types of provision

Last update: 4 February 2024


The varied range of adult education and training programmes can be differentiated by their purpose, the results and the place of learning.

When differentiating them by their purpose, essentially two types of adult learning can be found, with both areas frequently overlapping:

  • General adult education: This type of adult learning is primarily about expanding knowledge and awareness, without primarily professional reasons behind it.
  • Continuing (vocational) education and training (CET/CVET): This form of adult learning is primarily about deepening and expanding job-related competencies and acquiring qualifications. In addition, qualification measures of active labour market policy can also be assigned to this term (cf. below part: "Provision Targeting the Transition to the Labour Market"). The main reasons for CVET are to keep gainful employment, improve one’s professional position (upskilling, reskilling) and reintegrate into the labour market.

Adult learning programmes can also be broken down into two groups based on the results, i.e. on the type of qualification acquired::

  • Some programmes lead to governmentally regulated qualifications. These programmes include second-chance programmes, i.e. programmes that aim at the acquisition of qualifications by adults in the formal education sector (e.g.
  • It is also possible to acquire qualifications which are not subject to any legal regulations in the adult learning sector. Here, the provider institutions themselves are responsible for the curriculum and for the final examination.

Regarding the place of learning, it is possible to make the following distinction between adult learning programmes can be made:

  • There are adult learning programmes that are offered in the formal learning context, i.e. in schools and higher education (HE) establishmentsinstitutions. The programmes offered by these institutions can, but need not, lead to legally governmentally regulated qualifications.
  • Many adult learning programmes are offered in the non-formal learning context, i.e. in adult learning establishments or companies. Learners at these institutions can also acquire formal qualifications.Formal qualifications can also be obtained in these institutions. 


Provision to raise achievement in basic skills

The programme area “basic skills education” as part of the Adult Learning Initiative (cf. also chapter 14.3: Initiative for Adult Education) addresses people with a need for basic skills education. The contents of these courses aim at promoting learning competence (autonomous learning, learning to learn), the acquisition of German as well as basic knowledge in another language, numeracy, and the use of information and communications technologies. The courses are developed by adult learning institutes following nationally valid quality guidelines. They are then submitted to the IEB office for accreditation. After successful accreditation, funding can be requested from the responsible office of the provincial government. With this funding, interested parties can use these offers free of charge.

All activities within this programme area are subject to ongoing monitoring. Central data on courses are recorded and passed on to the steering group for evidence-based decisions in half-yearly reports.

In addition, the first programme period (2012 to 2014) and also the second (2015 to 2017) were externally evaluated in order to determine the success conditions of the initiative and the courses offered. Moreover, an impact analysis was carried out in terms of reaching target groups and the benefits for participants.

On the basis of the monitoring and evaluation reports, various adjustments were made at the beginning of the third programme period (2018-2021): For example, the programme duration was increased from three to four years in order to give the providers more planning security and the participants the opportunity to attend sequential courses. In addition, content-related adaptations were made in both programme areas (for the second area, cf. 8.4.2) and the decision was made to align ongoing monitoring and evaluation more closely with quality development.

According to the figures from the 2020 monitoring report, almost 7,100 participants were counted in basic training courses between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020. More than two-thirds of them were women, 86% had a migration background. With more than 41%, 19- to 35-year-olds made up the largest group of participants, followed by 15- to 18-year-olds with just under 20%. 

Provision to achieve a recognised qualification during adulthood certification

Second-chance education comprises all programmes that enable adults to acquire previously missed formal qualifications. In a wide understanding of second-chance education, this term would also comprise basic skills education to the extent that it prepares learners in a targeted manner for more advanced formats such as preparatory courses for the acquisition of the compulsory school-leaving certificate.

The programmes for adults cover a wide range in all respects. The following main types of programmes can be distinguished:


Programme area “compulsory school-leaving certificate” as part of the IEB

The programme area “compulsory school-leaving certificate” as part of the Adult Learning Initiative (cf. also chapter 14.3: Initiative for Adult Education) addresses young people and adults who have not completed the eighth and/or ninth school year with positive results. 

According to the Act on Final Examination for Compulsory Schooling, education and training programmes comprise the following fields of competence: German, English, mathematics, career guidance, and two elective modules in the fields of creativity and design, health and social matters, another foreign language, nature and technology.

Similar to the programme area “basic skills education”, the courses developed by adult learning institutions in this programme area also need to comply with nationally valid quality guidelines and have to be submitted for accreditation to the IEB office. Once accredited, these courses can be attended free of charge.

According to the figures from the 2020 monitoring report, more than 3,200 participants were counted in courses of this programme area between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020. Nearly 60% of them were men, almost 82% had a migration background. Over three-quarters of the participants were 25 and younger, over 16% were between 26 and 35 years old. 

The "general higher education entrance examination" (Berufsreifeprüfung) and the "limited higher education entrance examination" (Studienberechtigungsprüfung)

The Berufsreifeprüfung (BRP) qualification (general higher education entrance examination cf. also chapter 6.10: Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education) provides holders with unrestricted access to studies at universities, universities of applied sciences, post-secondary VET colleges and post-secondary VET courses and requires candidates to have an initial VET qualification. It is possible to switch to another programme at any time.

This exam comprises four partial exams (German, mathematics, a modern foreign language, occupation-related specialist area). The exam in the specialist area always relates to the respective IVET qualification. At least one of the four partial exams must be taken at a public upper secondary institution (academic secondary school or college for higher vocational education), the others can be taken at recognised adult learning establishments.

The Studienberechtigungsprüfung (SBP) qualification (limited higher education entrance examination cf. also chapter 6.10: Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education) provides access to study fields for which it was taken specifically. Therefore, holders of this certificate have restricted access to tertiary and post-secondary non-tertiary programmes.

Entry requirements are a minimum age of 20 or 22 years (depending on the tertiary institution) and a few years of professional experience. On average, the SBP lasts two to three semesters. To prepare for the SBP, there are fee-based courses at adult learning institutions, sometimes also at universities. There is also the opportunity to prepare for SBP as part of a distance learning course.

According to data provided by BMBWF (cf. source) 4,090 students or 7% entered a university of applied sciences after having passed BRP in the winter semester 2020/2021. Almost 680 students (or slightly above 1%) had an SBP. At public universities over 2,830 SBP-graduates (1% of all students) and almost 7,300 BRP-graduates (2.7%) started a Bachelor course. 

Exams taken without prior school attendance (“external exams”)

Exams in individual subjects, school grades or school types can, under certain requirements, be taken in the form of external exams. This also applies to HE entrance examinations. Successful completion of the external exam confers the same rights as the regular HE entrance exam taken at upper secondary schools. Often external exams are taken by graduates of private schools. Fee-based courses are offered to prepare for this exam.

The number of full-time students at public universities who started their studies via an external examination was just under 1,400 in the winter semester 2020/2021 (cf. source); at universities of applied sciences, this figure was just below 280. 

Schools and colleges for people in employment (“evening schools”)

In principle it is possible to acquire all school certificates at adult age in Austria, in so-called second-chance education programmes.

Many school locations offer education and training programmes tailored to the needs of the workforce – most often in evening courses (“evening schools”) – which are completed with

Schools for people in employment 

  • fall within the sphere of competence of the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research (BMBWF)
  • in their structure (area specialisation, teaching staff, curriculum, etc.) and educational objective (professional qualification, HE access) they correspond to the respective day form;
  • depending on the school type, they last between two and four years; 
  • they can be attended free of charge.

In 2010, evening schools were re-organised by introducing a modular system (cf. source), aiming to modernise their previously strict organisation form with school grades and classes and enable educational careers that are more appropriate for adults. 

Add-on courses and post-secondary VET courses

Other adult learning programmes based at schools include add-on courses and post-secondary VET courses, which – although they do not count as “schools for people in employment” in the narrower sense of the word (cf. the text above) – are also provided on a part-time basis. Both programmes have a modular design.

Add-on courses fall within the sphere of competence of the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research and address graduates of

As a rule they last six semesters and lead to the matriculation and diploma exam of a college for higher vocational education (BHS, cf. chapter 6.7: Types of Educational Institutions). Add-on courses can be attended by learners free of charge.

Post-secondary VET courses also fall within the sphere of competence of the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research and mainly address graduates of

They last four semesters (day form) or six semesters (evening form), enable learners to acquire initial VET and lead them to the diploma exam of a college for higher vocational education (BHS, cf. chapter 6.7: Types of Educational Institutions). Post-secondary VET courses can also be attended by learners free of charge. 

Special forms of schools for intermediate vocational education

Special forms of schools for intermediate vocational education (BMS) include

  • industrial master colleges,
  • building craftsperson schools and
  • master craftsperson schools,

They enable learners to acquire a specialist higher qualification following completion of an initial VET track (apprenticeship, VET school, cf. chapter 6.7: Types of Educational Institutions) as well as relevant practice. They last up to three years, with attendance either free of charge (building craftsperson schools) or subject to tuition fees (industrial master colleges). 

Tertiary study programmes for people in employment

In Austria, part-time study programmes can be found especially at

Part-time study programmes at universities of applied sciences, which have expanded significantly in recent years, are most often held in block form in the evening and on Saturdays; e-learning elements enable flexible learning from home. These programmes fall within the sphere of competence of the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research (BMBWF) as well as the respective provider organisation.

In the academic year 2020/2021, more than 23,200 students (or almost 40%) attended a part-time study programme at a university of applied sciences (cf. source). 

In addition to part-time courses as part of a regular course of study, HE institutions also offer continuing education courses (i.e. extraordinary courses) and certificate courses. The former are currently being restructured due to the university legal package that came into force in October 2021. In addition to the existing master’s courses, there will also be bachelor’s courses in the future. Thus, the Bologna architecture is also adopted for CET at HE institutes, enabling permeability between regular and CET studies. In addition, HE institutions also offer certificate courses with a strong professional focus. 

Possibilities where certification bodies are involved

It is not strictly necessary to attend courses or programmes in order to acquire further and higher qualifications. Many formal qualifications can also be acquired without completing any formal or non-formal training. The prerequisite for the acquisition of a qualification is completion of an exam conducted by a certification body. In this sense, schools act as a type of certification body for external (matriculation) exams.

Major certification bodies in Austria are the apprenticeship offices in the dual vocational training system (cf. chapter 6.7: Part Time Vocational Schools), which are responsible for organising and conducting the apprenticeship-leave exam. The Vocational Training Act, which also regulates the apprenticeship-leave exam, also makes it possible for those who have not completed a regular apprenticeship period to be granted exceptional admission to the apprenticeship-leave exam. Adult learning establishments offer preparatory courses for some apprenticeship-leave exams, with varying costs, which – like the examination fee – need to be borne by the learners themselves.

In 2019 around 9,900 people took an apprenticeship-leave exam after being granted exceptional admission, with about 7,400 passing it successfully. This equals some 19% of all apprenticeship-leave exams passed successfully in Austria in that year (cf. source).

The offices responsible for the master craftsperson exam – like the apprenticeship offices – are active within the sphere of competence delegated to them by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Economy (BADW) and are also set up at the Austrian economic chambers. They conduct master craftsperson exams (for crafts, such as joiner, baker, hairdresser) and qualifying exams (for other regulated trades, such as master builder, carpenter), successful completion of which is a prerequisite for taking up self-employment.

Completion of the master craftsperson and qualifying certificates does not require any previous training, but some adult learning institutions offer part-time preparatory courses for which learners must pay a tuition fee. The duration and content of these courses and the course material are not regulated in a uniform manner throughout Austria – it is the task of the respective establishment itself to design these courses.

A very important certification body in the adult education and training sector is the Austrian Academy of Continuing Education (WBA). WBA was founded by the Austrian Conference of Adult Education Institutions (KEBÖ) and the Federal Institute for Adult Education (BIFEB). It validates and recognises formal, non-formal and informal competences of adult educators according to defined standards. WBA awards a two-tier occupational qualification with a certificate and diploma and supports permeability between adult education and university-based initial and continuing training. With its binding education and training standards, WBA ensures quality assurance and transparency and thus makes a valuable contribution to the professionalisation and quality development of adult education. To acquire these qualifications, candidates have to pay a fee, but there are different subsidisation options depending on the region. Since its foundation in 2007, nearly 1,800 WBA qualifications have already been awarded (as per 2021, cf. source). 

Provision targeting the transition to the labour market

The central institution of labour market policy in Austria is Public Employment Service Austria (AMS, cg. chapter 8.3: Main Providers). AMS provides a wide range of subsidies for vocational and continuing training measures of people who are either unemployed or at risk of unemployment (such as career break returners after a leave of absence, elderly workers, people who are difficult to place for health reasons, people affected by the changing economic structure). These schemes aim to increase the participants’ opportunities of placement on the labour market and enhance their employability. Subsidies are granted for the likes of course fees, teaching materials, examination fees, specific clothing needed for training, travel expenses, board and lodging.

AMS itself does not act as a training provider in these schemes but subsidises training offered at adult learning institutions. Where the available training in one area is not sufficient, AMS is entitled to commission suitable adult education and training institutions with the implementation of relevant measures. In this case, AMS is responsible for needs assessment, planning, implementation as well as the efficiency of the measures. 

Provision of liberal (popular) adult education

The basic philosophy of adult education and training is defined as follows: Education has its own value in any stages of life. It affects political involvement, social life, professional efficiency and personal identity in a positive way. Education can be considered more than instrumental learning, qualifications and further training. (Definition based on: Ö-Cert, General basic requirements).

Further training has a high priority in Austria. According to the Adult Education Survey (2016/2017, cf. source), the two most common reasons for participating in non-formal CET activities are not related to the job or career, but are linked to general education:

  • 95% of the respondents refer to the desire to acquire knowledge and skills that are useful in everyday life as a reason for participating.
  • For 85%, their participation is due to the fact that they want to expand their knowledge and skills in a subject that interests them.
  • The first job-related reason only comes in third place: 77% point out that they associate further training with the desire to be able to do their job better or to improve their career prospects.

The major providers of adult education in Austria include non-profit associations and NGOs as well as the large associations which are organised in the Austrian Conference of Adult Education Institutions (KEBÖ) (cf. chapter 8.3: Main Providers).

Programmes can in many cases be assigned to general knowledge areas such as “languages”, “personal development and communication” and “politics and society”. Other areas are “health, wellness, sport”, “creativity and design” and “life orientation”. In principle, participants need to pay tuition fees, but subsidies can also be granted.

Of vital importance in this connection is professional and comprehensive educational counselling and career guidance: Co-financed by all the provinces and with ESF funds, an efficient, nationwide and provider-independent career guidance system has been set up in Austria with networks. Career guidance offices act as points of first contact for all people interested in learning, the services can be used free of charge.

The portal is a major contact point and hub in educational counselling and career guidance. Here you find basic information and links to a course support database a nationwide database for individual support in CET.

Knowledgebase Adult Education: The information offered by the Knowledgebase Adult Education provides a multi-lingual and internationally oriented, virtual education area for all those working in adult education and for all researchers and learners who want to receive quick, precise and comprehensive information on different aspects of adult education in Austria. 

Other types of publicly subsidised provision for adult learners

The previous chapters focused on the major publicly subsidised and supported programmes in the adult learning sector. Another major topic for adult learners is – apart from the costs of the training itself (Can I attend the programmes free of charge or do I have to pay a part of the costs or the full costs myself?) – the issue of how to cover living expenses while attending a VET or CET programme: Does the learner participate on a part-time basis, within part-time schemes, or in periods of educational leave?

An overview of the various personal subsidies available see here (such as from provincial governments, representations of interests, etc.).