Early childhood education and care
Kindergarten is the traditional form of pre-primary education for children aged three to six in Austria. However, kindergartens and crèches are not part of the school system. The provinces are responsible for legislation and implementation and about 60% of childcare facilities are maintained by municipalities. However, there is also a large private sector (operated by associations, religious communities and private individuals). From ages 0-5 kindergartens and crèches are optional and children attend at their parents’ initiative.
From the age of 5, kindergarten is obligatory and free of charge for a minimum of 20 hours over a minimum of 4 days per week (agreement pursuant to Art. § 15a of the Federal Constitutional Law (2022/23-2026/27)). As of 2013 the federal government in cooperation with the provinces has been investing in new day care places for children under the age of three. In addition there is an effort to expand opening hours and to boost quality (by setting minimum standards).
General compulsory schooling starts for all children on September, 1st following the child’s sixth birthday and comprises nine years. For most children (90%) aged 6-15 residing in Austria (regardless of their nationality) this means regular attendance at a fully publicly funded school. It can also mean attendance at a fee-paying private school or homeschooling.
Children who are of statutory school age can also be taught at home in Austria.
Children with special educational needs complete their compulsory education within the system. On the basis of their special educational needs (SEN), they are either taught in mainstream schools or in special needs schools.
Parents, teachers and students (from year 5 onwards) form school partners. Parents and students have statutory rights to participate in decision making for improving teaching and learning conditions. Three bodies exist:
- Class forum
- School forum or, in school clusters, cluster forum (cf. chapter 2.6. and 2.7.)
- School community committee
General compulsory education (school years 1-9) may be completed in private tuition programmes (= Häuslicher Unterricht). This is laid down in the national Compulsory Schooling Act.
The board of education (= Bildungsdirektion) must be notified of private tuition arrangements before the beginning of the school year. Private tuition may be started, if it is not disallowed within one month of notification. Private tuition can only be disallowed if, at all likelihood, the suggested private tuition arrangements are inferior to instruction at public school. Intended private tuition must be reported before the beginning of the school year, it cannot be taken up during the year. Children being taught privately must take exams at the end of the school year to demonstrate that they have attained the educational goals of the school they would have to attend. Otherwise, private tuition will be disallowed in the following school year, and the child will have to repeat the school year in a public school or school with public status.
The teaching person does not require a certificate of proficiency.
Under similar conditions, children of statutory school age may attend private schools which do not enjoy public law status. Again, the equivalence of teaching will be tested in subsequent examinations held at public schools.
Primary and secondary education
Primary schools have to provide a common basic education for all students in the first four grades, taking into account integration of children with special needs. A pre-school year can be included in the lower levels (grades 1 and 2) of primary schooling; the pre-school year is part of the school system and is designed to foster the development of children of compulsory schooling age who are not yet mature enough for year 1.
Children with special educational needs are either taught in mainstream schools or attend special needs schools.
Transition from primary to secondary education: Following primary school, in which all children attend mixed-ability classes (grades 1 to 4), the first transition takes place to different school types:
Upper secondary level (grades 9 to 13) comprises a general education branch and a vocational branch:
- Pre-vocational school
- Upper level of academic secondary school (grades 9 to 12)
- Part-time vocational school – in tandem with company-based vocational training (dual system) (grades 10 to max. 13)
- School of intermediate vocational education and training (=School of intermediate VET) (grades 9 to max. 12)
- College of higher vocational education and training (=College of higher VET) (grades 9 to 11: ISCED 3; grades 12 to 13: ISCED 5).
Post-secondary education and short-cycle tertiary education
The post-secondary non-tertiary sector (ISCED 4) comprises:
- Schools and other education and training programmes in the advanced-level healthcare professions
Until 2006/2008, non-medical health professions (such as healthcare and nursing, midwife, physiotherapy, etc.) were trained solely at schools for healthcare and nursing or post-secondary VET colleges. Since then, it has also been possible to complete these programmes as bachelor’s programmes at universities of applied sciences and, from 2019 (advanced-level medico-technical service) and 2024 (advanced-level healthcare and nursing service), it is expected that these programmes will be held only at these establishments. As bachelor’s programmes they are allocated to ISCED level 6.
- Preparation courses (Vorbereitungslehrgänge) for apprenticeship graduates
- A higher education entrance examination
Short-cycle tertiary education (ISCED 5) comprises:
- College of higher vocational education and training (=college of higher VET) (grades 12 to 13: ISCED 5)
In ISCED 2011, years 1 to 3 at colleges for higher vocational education correspond with ISCED level 3, years 4 and 5 with ISCED level 5. Allocated to level 5 are tertiary qualifications which, typically, teach professional knowledge, skills and competences in a practice-oriented way. The allocation of the last two years to a higher ISCED level takes into account the qualified training with a matriculation and diploma examination as a qualification.
- Add-on courses for the matriculation and diploma examination for graduates of schools of vocational education and training
- School for people in employment
- Industrial master, building craftsperson and master craftsperson school
- Post-secondary VET course.
Students can choose between the following tertiary educational institutions:
- Universities, public and private
- Universities of applied sciences
- University colleges of teacher education
Bachelor’s programmes are allocated to ISCED level 6, master’s programmes and postgraduate university courses are allocated to ISCED level 7 and doctoral programmes to ISCED level 8.
Though universities still account for the biggest proportion of tertiary education, the universities of applied sciences, introduced in the early 1990s, have contributed substantially to improving tertiary entry and graduation rates over the past decade.
For more details please see here.
Adult education and training
The Austrian adult education and training landscape is characterised by a high degree of institutional diversity and an associated wide range of available programmes.
Alongside the public sector (schools, universities, universities of applied sciences and university colleges of teacher education) there are many non-profit as well as commercial providers (cf. chapter 8.3).
The spectrum of education and training (cf. chapter 8.4) ranges from
- basic education
- the acquisition of qualifications in second-chance education
- various subject-specific courses and general-education seminars, to
- master’s degree programmes at higher education establishments/institutions.