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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Types of higher education institutions


7.Higher education

7.1Types of higher education institutions

Last update: 3 February 2024


General overview

Higher education institutions:



Public Universities (Öffentliche Universitäten)

According to the Universities Act 2002, which entered into force on 1 January 2004, the main tasks of Universities are:

  • to develop and impart the sciences and/or the arts,
  • to provide basic training for scientific and/or artistic occupations and the qualifications for professional activities which require the application of scientific and/or artistic findings,
  • to train a next generation of scientists and/or artists,
  • to offer further training, especially to graduates,
  • to support national and international cooperation in the field of scientific research and teaching and/or the exercise of the arts and their teaching,
  • to support the use and application of university research results and/or the practical accessibility of the arts.

In Austria, the universities are legal entities under public law which have their own legal personality. The Federal Minister of Education, Science and Research has the legal supervision. The universities are headed by

  • a university council (Universitätsrat),
  • a senate (Senat),
  • a rectorate (Rektorat) and
  • a rector (Rektor/in)

The rectorate is responsible for all decisions on admission. The university council is responsible for reviewing legality and efficiency, it also elects the rector.

The Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research has a supervisory function only in legal affairs and is responsible for strategic planning and research.

The performance of each university (including the offer of study programmes) and its budget are negotiated every three years between the university and the Federal Minister and laid down in performance agreements.

In 2009 the Universities Act was amended, with targets such as a clear distribution of competences between the rectorate, the senate and the university council, and a proportion of women of at least 40 per cent in the collegial university bodies (university councils, rectorates, senates or lists for the election of the senate, appointment committees, habilitation committees).

A special case: the University of Continuing Education Danube University Krems (Donau-Universität Krems, DUK): founded in 1994, specialised in postgraduate education and further training; since 2014 PhD programmes have also been offered. 

Universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen, FH)

Since 1994/95 universities of applied sciences have been offering degree programmes aiming to equip students with vocational qualifications. There are bachelor’s and master’s degree programmes, which include practical training and are offered as full-time or part-time courses. The main goals of universities of applied sciences are:

  • to ensure practice-oriented training at university level,
  • to communicate the skills needed for the respective occupational field,
  • to promote permeability of the education system and flexibility of graduates.

Universities of applied sciences degree programmes are provided by federal authorities or other legal entities under public or private law. A system of mixed funding based on standard costs is in place; i.e. the Federal Government bears the costs per study place, the providers (usually the governments of the federal province, regional and supra-regional territorial authorities or other public and private institutions) bear the costs for buildings, investments, etc.

For universities of applied sciences the following external quality assurance procedures are carried out:

  • institutional accreditation of new universities of applied sciences,
  • initial accreditation of degree programmes,
  • audits.

A new university of applied sciences (a new institution) or a new degree programme needs to be accredited by the Agency for Quality Assurance and Accreditation Austria (AQ Austria) first of all. After this initial approval an institutional re-accreditation is required. After an uninterrupted accreditation period of twelve years, the respective university of applied sciences must undergo an audit. Thereafter, audits must be performed every seven years. Every new degree programme has to undergo a one-time initial accreditation.

The further development of universities of applied sciences is based on respective development and funding plans. The current plan regulates the qualitative and quantitative development, the funding model, the criteria for the granting of federal subsidies and the further expansion of the universities of applied sciences sector by 2022/23. 

Private Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) (Privathochschulen und Privatuniversitäten)

Private HEIs were first set up based on the 1999 University Accreditation Act (now out of legal validity) (Universitäts-Akkreditierungsgesetz, UniAkkG) aiming mostly at promoting diversity in higher education. In 2021 the Private Higher Education Institutions Act (Privathochschulgesetz) came into force, which now represents the legal basis for private higher education institutions (replacing the Private Universities Act (Privatuniversitätengesetz)).

The guiding principles of the private HE sector are:

  • freedom of research, art and teaching
  • interaction between research and teaching
  • diversity of scientific and artistic theories, methods and doctrines.

With the beginning of 2021 a major reform within the private higher education sector has been implemented. Until then private HEIs could only be accredited as private universities (Privatuniversitäten). With the Private Higher Education Institutions Act an inner differentiation has been introduced to the private higher education sector: Privathochschulen (private HEIs) and Privatuniversitäten (private universities). From 2021 all new private HEI will be firstly accredited as “Privathochschule”. After that the institution can decide to remain “Privathochschule” or to apply for an accreditation as private university. Only private universities are allowed to offer doctoral programmes.

Private HEIs are entitled to award academic degrees to graduates of the degree programmes they offer (bachelor’s, master’s and in the case of private universities doctoral degrees), and this also includes the same academic titles as awarded at public universities.

For the private HEI sector the following external quality assurance procedures are carried out:

  • institutional accreditation of private HEIs or private universities,
  • programme accreditation of degree programmes.

Private HEIs have to undergo an initial institutional accreditation as well as institutional re-accreditation, which are valid for six years (or up to twelve years). Degree programmes are subject to a programme accreditation which is bound to the period of the institutional accreditation. The authority responsible for accreditation and extension is the Agency for Quality Assurance and Accreditation Austria (AQ Austria). It is responsible for decisions on the accreditation of institutions as well as of new degree programmes and for the supervision of private HEIs that have already been accredited.

The Act does not provide for a specific form of organisation. Often the content and system of degree programmes differ from those of public universities and universities of applied sciences, but similar programmes are also provided.

Private HEIs are not entitled to receive federal funding; other public funding sources, e.g. from the provinces, are possible. 

University Colleges of Teacher Education (Pädagogische Hochschulen)

University colleges of teacher education are legal entities under public law with restricted autonomy.

Each university college of teacher education comprises the following bodies:

  • the higher education council,
  • the rectorate,
  • the rector, and
  • the Hochschulkollegium (body comprising representatives of the academic staff, administrative staff and students at an HE institution).

The following study programmes have to be offered and provided at university colleges of teacher education as part of initial teacher training:

  • bachelor’s and master’s degree programmes to obtain teaching credentials for the primary sector,
  • bachelor’s and master’s degree programmes to obtain teaching credentials for the secondary sector (general education as well as vocational education and training),
  • continuing training programmes have to be offered for all occupational fields related to pedagogy.

The budget for public university colleges of teacher education is allocated by the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research.

For more information see chapter 9.1.