Definition of the target groups
In February 2017 the Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy (BMWFW) published the “National strategy on the social dimension of higher education”, which had been developed together with higher education institutions and stakeholders.
There are different groups of students in Austria who are faced with disadvantages, impairments and difficulties during their studies. These include the following in particular:
- students with disabilities and chronic diseases
- students with care obligations
- “first generation” students and students with a migrant background
- employed students and students in second-chance education
- students in financial distress
- asylum seekers or students with refugee status
The “National strategy on the social dimension of higher education” pursues three main targets for these groups of students:
- more inclusive access
- prevent dropout and increase academic success
- create basic parameters and optimise the regulation of higher education policy
- Each target contains three action lines (= fields of action), within which concrete measures are identified. The implementation and practical progress are monitored through nine quantitative goals.
Specific support measures
Support measures for disabled and chronically ill students
Legally standardised rights
The Universities Act stipulates that curricula must comply with the objectives of Art. 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in order to ensure equal participation of people with disabilities in tertiary education. For students with a disability, the requirements of the curricula must therefore be modified in line with the needs and educational goals of the chosen course of study.
The Universities Act and the Universities of Applied Sciences Studies Act (Fachhochschulstudiengesetz) provide for the right to a different examination method if taking the examination in the prescribed method is not possible due to a disability.
Financial compensation schemes:
In the case of a proven disability, the tuition fee for “long-term students” must be waived. Furthermore, students with disabilities have the right to an extended payment period for the study grant and to less strict conditions for being entitled to a study grant.
Specific support measures
- Contact persons and advice centres
Almost all universities and other higher education institutions have their own counselling and service offers for students with disabilities, chronic illnesses and health impairments, e.g. Team Barrierefrei (Barrier-Free Team) at the University of Vienna, Zentrum Integriert Studieren (Integrated Study Centre) at the University of Graz, Institut Integriert Studieren (Integrated Study Institute) at the University of Linz. Students can turn to the experts working there for any questions they may have about accessible studying on this page.
At the Universities of Vienna, Graz, Innsbruck, Salzburg, Linz, Klagenfurt and at the Vienna and Graz Universities of Technology, there are workplaces for the blind and visually impaired where students can also receive special support.
- GESTU service centre (Gehörlos erfolgreich studieren - Successful Study for the Hearing Impaired)
GESTU (located at the Graz University of Technology and the Vienna University of Technology) is the central point of contact for advice and information on barrier-free study access for all deaf and hard of hearing students in the university location Graz and Vienna. Here students of all universities and other higher education institutions in Vienna can be given advice in Austrian Sign Language as well as in German spoken language.
The staff of the GESTU service centre coordinate sign language interpreters, tutors and speech-to-text reporters to support the students concerned in their everyday studies.
- Mentoring and buddy programmes
The “BeAble” project at the Vienna University of Economics and Business is a mentoring programme for students with disabilities who are supported by colleagues in higher semesters under the guidance of specialists.
In the ISU project at the University of Vienna, students are provided with academic support and trained to become “1:1 supporters” so they can create individual accessibility solutions for fellow students with impairments.
- International Mobility - Erasmus+ Special Grant from the Austrian National Agency Erasmus+ Education (OEAD)
For Erasmus+ students with a disability or chronic illness, there is a special grant to cover additional costs in addition to the regular mobility allowance for study or internship stays abroad.
- Austrian National Union of Students (Österreichische Hochschüler/innenschaft, ÖH)
The Office for Inclusive Education of the Austrian National Union of Students offers information and advice on topics related to accessibility in studies. The ÖH Social Fund offers financial support to students with disabilities. Elections to all organs of the student bodies (ÖH elections) are organised in such a way that barrier-free access is ensured. For all voting locations there are tactile voting devices to remove barriers for visually impaired and blind students.
- PromoLi – Promotionstellen ohne Limit (Doctoral Positions without Limit)
The project “Promotionsstellen ohne Limit – PromoLi” of the national universities association Universities Austria (uniko) aims to help people with disabilities or chronic illnesses who have completed a master’s or diploma degree and are looking to start their academic career.
- Ombudsman’s office for students
The work of the ombudsman’s office at the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research focuses on the concerns of students with disabilities, chronic diseases and impairments. The ombudsman’s office also publishes its own brochure “Stichwort? Studieren mit Behinderung!” (Keyword? Studying with a Disability) about the particular aspects involved when studying with an impairment (available in printed form, printed Braille and audio format).
The “Uniability” working group is a network of contact persons for students with disabilities, supervisors of visually impaired and blind reading places, representatives for disabled people, consultants for disabled people in the student bodies and employees in projects dealing with disability at universities. Another Uniability initiative is the placement service for academics with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses (Arbeitsassistenz für AkademikerInnen mit Behinderung und/oder chronischer Erkrankung, ABak), which was launched in 1999.
- Training allowance of the Ministry of Social Affairs
The Service of the Ministry of Social Affairs can grant a training allowance to compensate for additional expenses caused by disabilities. In addition, the costs for technical aids required for study as well as for mobility aids to reach the place of study (training in orientation and mobility, guide dogs for the blind, travel expenses) can be covered in whole or in part.
Support measures for students with care obligations
With the 2015 amendment to the 2002 Universities Act, reconciling studies or work with care obligations for children and family members who need care was explicitly enshrined as another guiding principle for universities in the fulfilment of their tasks. The aim of this is to ensure greater visibility for university members (§ 94) with care obligations for children and family members who need care. A series of initiatives and networks have the goal of promoting a greater balance between family and work/studies:
- UniKid-UniCare Austria was established in 2004 in order to provide information and contacts for parents/legal guardians and also family members providing care who work or study at Austrian universities.
- The higher education institution and family audit (Audit hochschuleundfamilie) is an externally monitored quality assurance procedure in order to expand the family-friendly design of working and study conditions at universities and to establish this on a lasting basis with appropriate measures.
- At many Austrian universities there are various offers available which support students with care obligations. These are, for example, children’s offices, family service centres, units to balance work/studies with care obligations, contact and service points for balancing these obligations. These service centres also provide advice and information on legal issues and financial support options.
- The Austrian National Union of Students offers advice and information on studying with a child.
- Many universities additionally offer alternative and flexible forms of study such as part-time study, evening study, distance study (or also part-time courses for people who work), which may be of interest for students with one or more children or for family members who provide care. Furthermore, there is also the possibility of taking leave from studies for a certain period for specific reasons (including pregnancy, nursing and (child)care obligations).
- For students with one or more children there are special regulations in the area of study allowances, for example a higher study grant, a higher additional earnings ceiling and also a childcare subsidy for the final stage of studies.
Support measures for “first generation” students and students with a migrant background
There are numerous measures at Austrian higher education institutions to support students from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds/“first generation” students as well as foreign students with an Austrian education (Austrian higher education entrance qualification) with a migrant background:
- Outreach activities (e.g. “Uni geht in die Schule” (Uni Goes to School), workshops on study research, “Chill die Basis” (Chill the Basis), Study Scouting, “We want you”)
- Counselling/coaching/mentoring (also e.g. study counselling, social counselling, jobs with focus on students with a migrant background)
- Bridging programmes. Specific examples:
- The project “Chill die Basis” at the University of Innsbruck examined educational inequalities in university access as well as suitable measures to reduce the effect of social origin on educational path decisions. Follow-up measures were agreed in the performance agreement for the period 2019-21 between the University of Innsbruck and the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research.
- University of Graz: The project “Peer-Mentoring / Die Ersten in der Familie, die an die Uni gehen” (Peer Mentoring / The First People in the Family to Go to Uni) of the University of Graz is aimed at first generation students of all faculties and also accompanies and supports prospective students and students with a migrant background (foreign students with an Austrian education whose two parents were born abroad). Targeted support and information services (individual taster day, consultation hours, e-mail counselling, regulars’ table) improve social permeability during the transition from school to higher education and increase study choice certainty and study satisfaction in order to prevent dropouts and strengthen social permeability. In addition, the development of a social network and academic integration are promoted.
Support measures for employed students and students in second-chance education
- The “National Strategy on the Social Dimension in Higher Education” states that the aim is to achieve a coordinated approach for recognising and validating non-formal and informal competences in Austria. At the institutional and regional level, there are already approaches that allow students to have these competences recognised.
- Some higher education institutions offer tutorials for beginners, mentoring or certain courses, such as an introduction to academic work, to facilitate entry into the institutions.
- The social partners – Austrian Federal Economic Chamber and the Austrian Chamber of Labour – offer information (information brochures) on the subject of “studying and working”.
- Many students work at the same time as studying or begin a higher education programme on a full-time or part-time basis after several years of professional experience. For the latter there is a special form of study grant to provide financial support, the so-called scholarship for individuals earning their own livelihood (Selbsterhalter/innen-Stipendium). This is for students who, before receiving a study grant for the first time, have earned their own livelihood for at least four years.
- Students who have been employed during their studies (for at least three years over the last four years before filing their application) or cared for their children and have almost reached their study course objective can obtain a scholarship for graduates (Studienabschluss-Stipendium) to relieve them during the graduation phase.
Support measures for students in financial distress
The Austrian National Union of Students (Österreichische Hochschüler/innenschaft, ÖH), the representative body of all students in Austria, offers students the following social benefits if they are facing particular social and financial difficulties:
- Social support for particular cases of hardship: students who are in major financial difficulties without themselves being at fault and who do not receive support from anywhere else can turn to the social services department of the ÖH.
- ÖH children’s fund: here financial support is granted to students who land in difficulties during pregnancy, childbirth or the care and upbringing of their child.
- Healthcare fund of the ÖH: students whose health insurance cover does not suffice for certain medical services or in specific situations have the possibility of contributing to the costs with resources from the healthcare fund of the ÖH.
- Support for accommodation costs by the ÖH: if certain requirements are met (social need, certain level of academic success, etc.) students can request a subsidy for their accommodation costs.
- Kindergarten fund: this fund is for support of a child outside the home, i.e. care by childminders etc.
- Under certain circumstances, costs for psychotherapy and mediation and also treatment costs arising as part of therapy can be reimbursed by the ÖH.
- Since 2010 there has been special financial support for disabled students.
Support measures for asylum seekers or students with refugee status
- Two times a year, the Austrian Integration Fund (Österreichischer Integrationsfonds, ÖIF) awards Liese Prokop scholarships to needy third-country nationals, recognised asylum seekers and people granted subsidiary protection who are attending a pre-study course, a regular study or are in the nostrification process.
- As part of the TOGETHER:AUSTRIA Academy (ZUSAMMEN:ÖSTERREICH Akademie) students with a migration background and above-average levels of social commitment are actively given funding and support.
- Universities Austria (Universitätskonferenz, uniko) has launched the refugee initiative MORE, an initiative of universities for people entitled to asylum and subsidiary protection and also asylum seekers with an asylum application card (and with high likelihood of being granted recognition of asylum) who have already completed an academic education or need guidance/improvement of their language skills for a possible study. It began as a pilot period in the winter semester 2015/16 and now all 21 universities are participating in it. The universities make a specific number of places available in selected courses and classes.
- The University of Vienna offers information for asylum seekers, Convention refugees and subsidiary protection beneficiaries in its student services.
- The Austrian National Union of Students provides information on assistance with residence permits, visas, admission to studies and the acquisition of German language skills in the “Office for Foreign Students”.
- With REFUGEES – access to education for asylum seekers and refugees the Joanneum University of Applied Sciences also presented a package of measures to support asylum seekers and recognised refugees. This package of measures includes, for example, access to education by developing integration programmes for minors aged between 14 and 18 who were fleeing.
- With the initiative “oead4refugees – Hochschulbildung für Flüchtlinge” (Higher Education for Refugees) Oead GmbH supports refugees with information about study options at Austrian higher education establishments.