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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of vocational upper secondary education


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.7Organisation of vocational upper secondary education

Last update: 3 February 2024


Types of institutions

As of grade 9, the Austrian system offers schools concentrating on general education as well as a wide range of VET programmes.

Vocational upper secondary education comprises the following school types:

Graduates of colleges of higher VET as well as of ECEC teacher training colleges and education and training colleges for social pedagogues are entitled to enter the higher education sector (general higher education entrance qualification) and these establishments are completed with the matriculation and diploma examination.

The final certificate of a college of higher VET is evidence of regulated education and training as laid down in the Directive 2005/36/EC (Article 13(2)).

The vocational education and training system can be broken down into two major categories: part-time vocational schools in the apprenticeship system and full-time schools of intermediate VET and colleges of higher VET.

In the dual system, attendance of part-time vocational schools is compulsory for apprentices according to the Vocational Training Act. The objective of part-time vocational schools as described in § 46 of the School Organisation Act is to impart fundamental theoretical knowledge to individuals who are obliged to attend part-time vocational school by way of part-time instruction in the field concerned, to promote and complement their company-based training and to expand their general education.

The ratio of time spent between company-based training and part-time school education is about 4:1. Roughly 40% of compulsory school graduates enter into an apprenticeship contract, one third of them female. The main share of apprentices are trained in the crafts and trades sector, followed by the retail and wholesale trade, industry, tourism and the leisure industry, transport, information and consulting, and finally the banking and insurance sector. Apprentices are paid a remuneration which is regulated by collective agreement and amounts to about 25-40% of the respective initial salary of a skilled worker in the first apprenticeship year and increases annually.

Types of part-time vocational schools:

  • Part-time vocational schools for apprenticeships within the meaning of the Vocational Training Act;
  • Part-time vocational schools for agriculture and forestry.

The roughly 250 apprenticeship professions are most often broken down based on their training duration:

  • Two-year and two-and-a-half-year apprenticeships (in the crafts and trades), such as: sweet and confectionery maker; beautician; masseur/masseuse; textile pattern designer; cleaner of monuments, façades and buildings.
  • Some 70% of apprenticeships last for three years, such as: office assistant; retail trade services; wholesale trader and industrial clerk; hairdresser and wigmaker (stylist); restaurant specialist; joinery.
  • Three-and-a-half-year apprenticeships (frequently technical occupations), such as: motor vehicle engineering; electrical installations engineering; mechanical engineering; communications technician; electrical machinery engineering; photography; precision optics; chemical laboratory engineering, etc.
  • Four-year apprenticeships: dental technician; complex machinery electrical systems; machinery mechanic; machine tool mechanics; electrical industrial engineering specialising in process control technology.

In part-time vocational schools for agriculture and forestry, training is provided in the following apprenticeships: agriculture; home economics in the rural environment; horticulture; field vegetable cultivation; fruit growing and processing; viticulture and wine cellar management; horse raising; fishing trade; poultry trade; apiculture; forestry; forest horticulture and forest management; agricultural stock keeping.

In schools of intermediate VET and colleges of higher VET longer programmes predominate. Furthermore there is a trend away from schools of internediate VET towards colleges of higher VET. Public schools have Bundes- (that is: Federal) in their name. The names of private schools also include the school provider.

Schools of intermediate VET last between 1 and 4 years and lead to the level of skilled worker or mid-level employee.

The most important 3-4-year school types with a final examination before an exam committee are the following:

  • Schools of engineering, arts and crafts;
  • Schools of business administration;
  • Schools of management and service industries;
  • Schools of fashion and clothing;
  • Schools of tourism and schools of hotel and catering industries;
  • Schools of social occupations;
  • Schools of agriculture and forestry.

According to ISCED 2011, the two final years of colleges of higher VET are now allocated to Level 5 and consequently to short-cycle tertiary education. This ensures that this school type’s special position as an educational track which awards a double qualification (a full professional qualification and the higher education entrance qualification) can be portrayed in a better way for the international comparison and from an outcome perspective.

Programmes at colleges of higher VET last for 5 years and are completed with the matriculation and diploma examination.

The most important school types are:

  • Colleges of engineering and crafts;
  • Colleges of business administration;
  • Colleges of management and service industries;
  • Colleges of fashion and colleges of artistic design;
  • Colleges of tourism;
  • Colleges of agriculture and forestry.

Schools of intermediate VET and colleges of higher VET concentrating on engineering, arts and crafts offer diverse specialist areas, such as:

  • construction engineering;
  • interior design;
  • timber technology;
  • mechatronics;
  • electrical engineering and electronics;
  • mechanical engineering;
  • material engineering;
  • media technology and media management;
  • information technology;
  • chemistry and chemical engineering;
  • food technology;
  • information technology;
  • industrial engineering and management;
  • business management;
  • art and design.

In addition, in some specialist areas, pupils can choose among various special focuses. Schools and colleges of business administration offer various special focuses:

  • marketing,
  • controlling and accounting,
  • financial and risk management,
  • entrepreneurship,
  • international business and
  • business informatics

Schools of tourism provide programmes in the following areas, among others:

  • hotel management,
  • international tourism management,
  • catering

At some school types, specialist areas and special focuses are regulated in the curriculum but can also be offered autonomously by schools.

Special focuses are areas which lead to an occupation-related specialisation based on school autonomy.

The programmes with special focus at colleges of higher VET can be compared to a tree. The specialist area corresponds to a tree trunk from which, from the third year onwards, branches fork off: the so-called special focuses. In the first two years, therefore, all programmes (of each specialist area) follow one uniform curriculum. From the third year onwards, curricula differ according to the various specialisations.

Training branches, however, are laid down in curricula by an ordinance of the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research and start with the first year. 

Geographical accessibility

The following authorities are in charge of decisions related to locations of public schools:

  • municipalities,
  • associations of municipalities and
  • provincial governments

They are obliged by law to ensure that a sufficient number of schools of high quality are available.

The federal government is responsible for

The transfer from the home address to the school is supported by public means. Organised transport by municipalities or the school allows that the time that students need to get to school can be kept at reasonable levels. 

Admission requirements and choice of school

For some years, so-called diagnostic checks have been carried out voluntarily and very successfully at schools of internediate VET and colleges of higher VET. The diagnostic check in German for the first years and grades at VET schools (9th school year) aims to determine the entry requirements of the pupils. This means it can be understood as determination of the language level in terms of reading comprehension, vocabulary/the logic of language, spelling and correct use of language to provide orientation for individualisation in German lessons. It is a remedial diagnostic instrument which gives information about the current status (strengths and weaknesses) and serves to prevent deficits. There are also diagnostic checks for English and mathematics. The results of the diagnostic checks enable targeted individual remedial measures to be drawn up for pupils.

For training at a part-time vocational school, the following conditions must be fulfilled:

  • completion of nine years of compulsory schooling;
  • compulsory attendance of part-time vocational school starts with entry into an apprenticeship relationship (completion of an apprenticeship contract).

For schools of intermediate VET, the admission requirements are as follows:

  • Pupils at academic secondary school must have successfully completed the 8th school year
  • Pupils of other schools must have successfully completed the 9th school year and can then enter the 2nd class directly.
  • Pupils of compulsory secondary school have to fulfil the following conditions:
    • No entrance examination is required if pupils have in-depth knowledge in the compulsory subjects (German, English, mathematics) or basic general education up to the mark "satisfactory".
    • Pupils must take an entrance examination if they have the grade "sufficient" in a compulsory subject. They can also receive a positive evaluation of the class conference.
    • Pupils who have “sufficient” in up to three subjects must take an entrance examination.

At schools of arts, an additional aptitude exam is held for

  • The school of social services; it lasts 2 years and requires the completion of compulsory schooling.
  • For the school of social occupations with a duration of 3 years

Admission requirements for colleges of higher VET (ISCED 3/5) are as follows:

  • Pupils of academic secondary schools must have  successfully completed the 8th grade.
  • For pupils of compulsory secondary schools the following regulations apply:
  • No entrance examination is required if pupils have in-depth knowledge in the compulsory subjects (German, English, mathematics) or basic general education up to the mark "satisfactory".
  • Pupils must take an entrance examination if they have the grade "sufficient" in a compulsory subject. They can also receive a positive evaluation of the class conference.
  • Pupils who have “sufficient” in up to three subjects must take an entrance examination.

An additional aptitude examination must be taken by candidates who want to enrol in colleges of engineering and crafts with special requirements in terms of artistic skills

Age levels and grouping of pupils/students

Apprentices must attend a part-time vocational school during their training in the company (usually between the ages of 15 and 19). The actual duration of school attendance depends on the respective apprenticeship training (up to 4 years). One year corresponds to one grade. Classes are held by subject teachers. They teach at least one school subject. There are two ability groups in a business-related subject and in two compulsory subjects of subject-related theory. The curriculum provides for remedial instruction for weaker pupils to catch up if they are temporarily behind or to reach the higher ability group (8-week courses).

The classes are not primarily grouped by age, but by apprenticeship occupations and apprenticeship year.

Due to connections between their specialist subjects, schools of intermediate VET frequently share buildings with colleges of higher VET. The teachers teach in both school types.

Students in schools of intermediate VET are, as a rule, 15 to 18 years old, depending on the length of their schooling, and are thus in the 9th to 12th grade. One year corresponds to one grade.

At schools of tourism and schools of management and service industries, heads of practical training (Fachvorstände) are appointed. Pedagogical matters are in the hands of the school head. This applies analogously to colleges of higher VET.

In practical subjects (such as workshop, laboratory, kitchen) the classes are held in small groups. In other subjects (such as foreign languages, IT, practice firm) there is also the option of splitting classes into groups. Both options also apply to colleges of higher VET.

Students in colleges of higher VET are, as a rule, 15 to 19 years old and are thus in the 9th to 13th grade. It always comprises 5 years of training. One year corresponds to one grade. 

Organisation of the school year

The organisation of the school year is generally governed by the School Periods Act. For the section of VET schools, the following specific rules apply:

At schools of tourism and schools of management and service industries as well as at colleges of agriculture and forestry, year 3 ends between 4 and 10 weeks before the regular date, and year 4 starts 4 to 5 weeks later because pupils must complete a period of mandatory work placement during this time. The time of this work placement depends on the specialist area. During the main holiday period in the summer (depending on the federal province, between the end of June and beginning of September) some curricula lay down mandatory summer internships.

For the organisation of the school year in schools of intermediate VET and colleges of higher VET, in which internships are not mandatory, see chapter 6.1.5.

The school year is divided into 2 semesters. After the first semester there is an “interim report”  (semester report). There are part-time vocational schools for one or more apprenticeships with the same amount of lessons but which are organised differently as follows:

  • All year round, i.e. at least on one full school day or at least two half school days a week (flexible organisation with block lessons is also possible);
  • By block, i.e. at least 8 weeks of instruction per grade and in grades which correspond to half a year of the apprenticeship relationship, with instruction lasting for at least four weeks;
  • Seasonally, i.e. teaching takes place in block form at a particular time of the year.

Part-time vocational school is closed during the general holiday period (see chapter 6.1.5). However, this does not mean that apprentices have time off during this period. Apprentices – like skilled workers – have 5 weeks holiday, of which they may take the majority in the summer months, however. 

Organisation of the school day and week

Classes usually start at 8.00 a.m. and must end between 6.00 and 7.00 p.m. at the latest.

The number of weekly lessons varies between school grades and school type, on average this is 32. The school administration is obliged to spread the total number of weekly lessons as evenly as possible over all days of instruction.

Each lesson usually lasts for 50 minutes, the units may be extended or shortened for pedagogical or organisational reasons.

Breaks between the individual lessons last for 5 to 15 minutes. Lunch break is usually 1 hour.

On Saturdays, classes must be finished by 12.45 p.m. at the latest.