At all levels of education there are, to a greater or lesser extent – privately maintained educational institutions. Many private educational institutions and education and training activities are also subsidised by public funds.
Early childhood education and care
In Austria there are public and private kindergarten institutions. About 40% of them are run privately. Most private kindergartens are organised and maintained by private associations (60.9%) followed by church organizations (28.3%). Kindergartens established by companies and private individuals and others make up the rest of private childcare institutions.
However, for all (public and private) kindergartens the same rule applies that children from the age of 5 must attend a kindergarten free of charge (for a minimum of 20 hours over a minimum of 4 days per week). This was an agreement between the national government and the provinces pursuant to Art. § 15a of the Federal Constitutional Law (2022/23-2026/27).
School education - primary and secondary education
Around 90% of all students in Austria attend state schools, whilst 10% go to one of the approximately 600 private educational institutions. Under the Basic Law on the General Rights of Nationals 1867 Article 17 anyone has the right to set up a private school. Private schools exist at all levels of schooling, at primary and secondary level, and in both general and vocational education.
Private schools may be maintained by legal entities or natural persons. The most significant provider of private schools in Austria is the Church, notably the Catholic Church.
Within private (school) education the same regulations apply for every school – in particular the provisions and regulations of the Private Schools Act.
However, the biggest (financial) distinction in Austria in the private school system is made between denominational private schools (50.54%) and non-denominational private schools (maintained by associations and private persons 30.01%) and others (19.45%). If the school is a denominational school, 100% of the personnel (i.e. teacher) costs are grant-aided by the state (§17 et seqq. Private Schools Act). Non-denominational schools can, but do not have to, be subsidised by public funds (§21 Private Schools Act).
The Private Schools Act distinguishes further between two groups of private schools, i.e.:
- Private schools that have a statutory counterpart in the public sector;
- Private schools that do not have a statutory counterpart in the public sector (schools with an ‘organisational charter’).
If a private school corresponding to a school type regulated by law is granted public-law status, the exams taken at the school have the same validity as those taken at its public-sector counterpart and no separate exams (in front of an external board of examiners) have to be taken.
The only distinguishing element of private schools with a statutory counterpart in the public sector compared to public schools is the providing body. These private schools are subject to the same statutory provisions as the corresponding public institutions as far as their setting up, maintenance, closing down, etc. are concerned.
Private schools with an organisational charterhave no public-sector counterpart. They have their own charters, in which they lay down a separate curriculum and bylaws. The charter is subject to official authorisation.
Waldorf Schools, which are rooted in anthroposophy, exist in all of Austria's provinces as alternative schools. Waldorf Schools are officially recognised schools and enjoy public-law status. They are comprehensive schools covering 12 to 14 grades, and are politically and denominationally independent. Socially, they are almost self-supporting, autonomous institutions run by parents, teachers and friends.
In addition, there are a number of other educational establishments that could be called alternative schools (e.g. according to the principles of Freinet, Rebbecca Wild and others). Alternative schools are organised in umbrella organisations. They are run mostly in accordance with the following criteria:
- The educational concept being holistic, social, self-determined and integrative learning
- Parental involvement in teaching
- Financially independent
In law, these schools are private schools with or without public-law status, or they fall under the private tuition provisions.
Children who are of statutory school age can also be taught privately (at home) (cf. chapter 2.3.).
As of 2023 there are 22 Public Universities and 18 Private HEIs in Austria. Private Higher Education Institutions started operation under the University Accreditation Act (now obsolete) in 1999. In 2021 the new Private Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) Act came into force, which regulates areas including the organisation and quality assurance of private HEIs. Furthermore, the provisions of the Federal Act on Quality Assurance in Higher Education are effective for the process of accreditation as a private HEI and for study programmes at private HEIs.
The authority for accreditation procedures is the Agency for Quality Assurance and Accreditation Austria, which is a legal entity under public law.
21 Universities of Applied Sciences, (introduced in 1994) are maintained and led either by the federal government, other corporate bodies, or private legal entities. In 1993, the Universities of Applied Sciences Studies Act (FHStG) was enacted, which allows public or private institutions to obtain accreditation as an University of Applied Sciences by the Agency for Quality Assurance and Accreditation Austria.
In 2005, the Act on the Organisation of University Colleges of Teacher Education was enacted which regulates the organisation and accreditation of the now 14 public and private University Colleges of Teacher Education.
For further details see Chapter 7.
Private adult education
In addition to public education institutions (secondary schools, universities, non-profit organisations), non-public organisations are also becoming increasingly significant (e.g. private providers of universities of applied sciences programmes for working adults, numerous private continuing training courses, etc.). Most institutions (even the non-profit organisations) charge fees to cover their course costs.
Further information is available in chapter 8.3.