Adult education (AE) or continuous education and training (CET) in Austria is characterised by a variety of educational institutions and an equally wide range of programmes with different objectives. Some of these programmes lead to formal (i.e. governmentally regulated) qualifications. They are usually offered by schools and higher education institutions. Other programmes are not regulated by law (and so are the qualifications these programmes lead to) but are recognised by the labour market. They are mostly offered by commercial and not-for-profit associations that are run by the social partners, local authorities and churches. CET also takes place within the framework of active labour market policy, which helps people enter or reintegrate into the labour market and secure their employability.
The heterogeneity of the AE landscape is also reflected in the governance structure and subsequently in the responsibilities for quality assurance (cf. Netzer, Martin (2013): Governance...). The following institutions are among the main actors in quality assurance. Reference is made to other facilities that support the main actors in QA activities in part below.
- At national level, the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research (BMBWF) is responsible for the QA of programmes leading to governmentally regulated qualifications (e.g. programmes for people in employment). The same QA instruments and processes apply to these offers as to types of schools in the primary and secondary level (cf. before).
- The Federal Ministry for Labour and Economy (BMAW) is responsible for active labour market policy at national level. The responsibility for its implementation lies within the sphere of competence of the Public Employment Service (AMS), which in turn relies on offers from CET providers geared towards the training of unemployed people and those at risk of unemployment. The selection of providers and offers is linked to quality criteria that the AMS has established.
- The provinces promote participation in further education and training at the regional level through grants and “further education accounts”. In order to ensure the quality of CET offers, they have contributed to the creation of Ö-Cert, the quality framework for AE in Austria.
- At the local level, the providers themselves (e.g. schools, universities, AE institutes, companies) are responsible for quality assurance.
Approaches and Methods for Quality Assurance
Austria’s AE landscape, especially the part in which non-governmentally regulated qualifications are awarded, is not only characterised by a variety of providers, but also by a large number of quality management systems, procedures, and certificates, which leads to a situation hardly manageable by participants. The institutions can decide for themselves which QM system to use or which QA measures to take. At the regional level, however, QM systems/measures form an important basis for the granting of subsidies to AE participants that are provided by the provinces. Therefore, until 2011 national education providers had to subject the QA systems/measures of their programmes to different, regionally valid recognition procedures if they wanted their offers to qualify for subsidies.
The federal government, represented by the Ministry of Education, the nine provinces and AE experts therefore worked out an Austria-wide Quality Framework for Adult Education (Ö-Cert) that entered into force in December 2011. This framework defines basic requirements, i.e. quality standards, in five areas, which must be met in order to qualify for Ö-Cert accreditation. These basic requirements shall ensure that, for example, the core task of the institution is the adult education, that is follows democratic principles, that the training programme is generally open to the public, and that at least one person in the educational management has a pedagogical qualification. Furthermore, Ö-Cert also requires the institution to have a quality management system. Only QM systems that include an external audit and have a limited validity period are recognised by Ö-Cert. These are, among others, EduQua (a Swiss quality certificate for CET institutions), the EFQM model (a quality management system for total quality management, which has been developed by the European Foundation for Quality Management) or wien-cert (a quality award for Viennese education providers). In order to receive the Ö-Cert accreditation, education providers submit an application to the Ö-Cert office in which they prove that the basic requirements (and thus also the existence of a QM system) are met. The Ö-Cert accreditation has a limited validity. The period of validity of Ö-Cert is linked to the period of validity of the QM system certificate, which the training provider must furnish. The same basic requirements apply for the prolongation of the Ö-Cert accreditation as for the initial application.
Ö-Cert not only simplified administrative procedures by making multiple applications unnecessary, it also triggered a shift towards professionalisation: educational institutions were motivated by Ö-Cert to devote more attention to QA in order to obtain the accreditation. For people planning to do a CET programme and also for entities providing financial subsidies Ö-Cert serves as orientation since the “brand” Ö-Cert creates transparency, reliability and trust. Ö-Cert therefore not only recognises the QA of providers, the accreditation itself has become a quality seal.
Ö-Cert is also appreciated and accepted in the CET sector because of its light-touch administration and the fact that, at only EUR 100, application costs for an Ö-Cert accreditation are low and therefore do not present a financial barrier for small organisations.
Federal Institute for Adult Education St. Wolfgang
The Federal Institute for Adult Education (BIFEB) was founded in 1956. Located in St. Wolfgang (Upper Austria), it is part of the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research (BMBWF). Its mission includes the development and professionalisation of AE on the basis of the AE Funding Act. Published in 1973, this act regulates the award of public funding for educational activities to associations and institutions.
BIFEB is dedicated to the principles of lifelong learning and equal access to education. The close national and international cooperation with affiliate AE organisations and other research institutions ensures the professionalisation of CET as well as the setting of new quality standards in lifelong learning. The CET offers of BIFEB are especially geared towards teachers and trainers, counsellors, education managers, communication managers and librarians. The contents covered in the courses, workshops and university-level programmes are delivered by Austrian as well as international experts. In addition, new learning modes are introduced. All these measures aim at ensuring and/or raising the quality of adult education and training in Austria.
Conference of Adult Education Institutions
The Austrian Conference of Adult Education Institutions (KEBÖ) is the working group of ten nationwide umbrella associations of Austrian non-for-profit AE institutions. KEBÖ serves as a platform for discussion and cooperation. The quality and sustainability of educational offers provided by the KEBÖ associations is safeguarded thanks to the use of QA procedures of the individual institutions and the implementation of the Ö-Cert quality framework for AE. In addition, continual and practice-oriented staff training and CET is provided in the individual KEBÖ institutions and thus guarantees the professionalisation of all full-time, part-time and voluntary employees in educational and organisational fields of activity.
Continuing Education Academy
Access to activities in the field of AE is not regulated in Austria, i.e. not linked to the acquisition of certain qualifications. While there are defined training paths and required qualifications for teachers in schools and universities, there are no such regulations for working in AE. Many institutions therefore offer their own training courses for their employees. However, there is no standardised and supra-institutional education and training programme in Austria.
The establishment of the Further Education Academy (wba) in 2007 pursuit the definition of uniform qualification profiles for adult educators, which could service as guidelines for providers of training. wba is not itself an education provider, but reviews the knowledge and skills acquired by people who work in adult education in a variety of ways and, if they match the qualification profiles, issues a certificate of qualification. wba thus sets uniform, provider-independent standards and promotes the professionalisation and quality development of adult education.
wba issues two certificates of qualification:
- The ‘wba certificate’ forms the broad basic qualification: For this, adult education-relevant competencies and relevant practice must be proven. In order to acquire this certificate, participation in a three-day assessment (certification workshop) is required, which is carried out by BIFEB and in which important skills are checked.
- The ‘wba diploma’ builds on the certificate and represents a specialisation. There are four main areas to choose from:
- teaching/group leadership/training,
- education management,
- consulting and
In-depth competencies must be proven in the chosen area. In a written thesis, the candidate reflects his own practice with reference to theory. A colloquium is part of the final assessment.
wba was developed and falls under the responsibility of the cooperative system of the Austrian adult education, which covers the ten KEBÖ associations and BIFEB. It is funded by the European Social Fund and the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research.
University advanced training for adult educators
In order to further professionalise the field of AE and to contribute to QA, a number of university programmes for further qualification of adult educators are offered. For example, at the University of Graz there is a four-semester master’s degree in “Adult and Continuing Education”, which serves to deepen, supplement and extent the pedagogy degree. The Alpen-Adria University in Klagenfurt also offers a four-semester course “Adult Education and Vocational Education”, which imparts scientific, subject-related and practice-oriented skills (practical knowledge) for the design and analysis of learning and educational processes. The course aims to promote and expand the ability to reflect and act in AE and CET fields and to deepen specialist knowledge. It builds on current research as well as findings from related sciences and develops competencies for research and design in connection with education, work, living environment and life course.
At the Danube University Krems, which exclusively offers further education, a separate department for further education research and educational technologies is set up. Various courses are offered that deal with the research of lifelong learning in its numerous aspects: from didactics and media skills to the possibilities of the technology-based use of digital tools. The course “Professional Teaching and Training” can serve as an example: Its aim is to impart comprehensive knowledge and professional skills for tasks in company-based training and further education as well as VET schools, AE and the university sector. Graduates of this course are entitled to acquire the qualification “certified trainer in adult education” offered by various certification bodies in accordance with ÖNORM EN ISO/IEC 17024.
Adult education initiative
The Adult Education Initiative is an initiative of the Federal Government and the provincial governments to promote basic educational qualifications for adults. It provides funds to put educational programmes into practice and guarantees a high quality standard for these programme areas by creating quality-related framework guidelines valid nationwide. Institutions active in adult education benefit by safeguarding basic programme areas, by having quality-related framework guidelines with considerable scope for designing a target group-specific educational offer as well as equal framework conditions in all provinces.
National Qualifications Framework (NQF)
The NQF in Austria, which was introduced by the corresponding federal law in 2016, is a comprehensive framework to which both formal (i.e. governmentally regulated) and non-formal qualifications can be assigned. The assignment is based on an application (NQF allocation request), which is submitted in the formal area by a ministry responsible for the qualification and in the non-formal area by an NQF service point (which has been authorised to do so by the provider).
NQF service points act as intermediaries between providers of non-formal qualifications and the NQF bodies. The reason for the establishment of such institutions (there are six altogether in Austria) lies in the diversity of the Austrian AE landscape and the high freedom in the design of AE programmes. This poses some challenges on the NQF allocation as there is often no overall responsibility (on regional, sectoral or institutional level) and no binding/obligatory guidelines for non-formal qualifications. Thus, NQF service points safeguard the quality of the allocation request by ensuring that
- the qualification to be submitted meets the NQF requirements,
- the proposed level at which the qualification is to be allocated is appropriate,
- the information in the NQF request is clear, comprehensible and ready for decisionmaking by the NQF bodies and that at the same time they
- show how the qualification is implemented.
For the NQF service unit to ensure a good quality of the NQF request, the quality of the programme and the qualification must be ensured as well. The NQF therefore makes an important contribution to the QA of adult education offers. Since the NQF specifies requirements that have to do with quality as a prerequisite for the allocation, the education providers must focus on quality assurance and development. For example, a transparent, learning outcome-oriented description of the qualification must be presented, which makes clear what graduates know and can do. The publication of this description commits the qualification provider to enable participants to acquire these learning outcomes. The final examination that leads to the award of the qualification must also be clearly described in the NQF allocation request. This description must include all QA measures taken to ensure the validity and objectivity of the exam procedures and the reliability of the results.