Higher education in Austria

For a relatively small country, Austria offers a large and diverse range of higher education institutions which vary in size and structure.

The state of higher education has changed dramatically since the 1960s when attending a university was considered only for the elite of society. As a result of reform, the university system is one that now serves the general population. The differing institutions started in the 1990s with the creation of the Universities of Applied Sciences, and private universities came into being in 2001.

Austria is considered to have a very high quality of education. The University of Vienna is ranked 143 according to the Times Higher Education world rankings and boasts nine institutions in the top 1,000. These include the medical and technical universities related to the study of sciences.

Austria has a long tradition of higher education, using state-of-the-art research and an ever-growing number of degree programmes, offering many opportunities for would-be students. These higher education institutions are not just restricted to the capital, Vienna and can be found right across the country. The Universities of Applied Sciences have campuses in both Lower and Upper Austria and have world-renowned facilities amongst beautiful settings.

Highlight your Future. Study in Austria. 
Source: Study in Austria by OeAD

Higher education figures

Source: Statistics Austria © academics

Higher education institutions in numbers

Source: Statistics Austria © academics

There are four different types of institutions in the Austrian higher education system:

  • Public Universities (öffentliche Universitäten)
  • Private Universities (Privatuniversitäten)
  • Universities of applied science (Fachhochschulen)
  • University Colleges of Teacher Education

Public Universities (öffentliche Universitäten)

Offering the largest range of subjects, universities (Universitäten) provide students with an in-depth academic education, focusing primarily on theoretical knowledge and methodological expertise. Of all higher institutions, only universities have the right to award doctorates.

Austrian universities have enormous variety in terms of both size and structure. Their educational offerings reflect this diversity. The study programmes at the traditional comprehensive universities in Vienna, Graz, Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Linz and Salzburg cover a broad spectrum of academic subjects. Austria’s technical and medical universities, on the other hand, concentrate on a range of highly specialized theoretical and applied disciplines. Research and teaching are seen as an inseparable entity at Austrian universities. Underpinned by this tenet, all academic fields (Humanities, Natural Sciences, Law, Social and Economic Sciences, Medicine, Technology, Mining Sciences, Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences and Veterinary Medicine) aim at fostering interdisciplinarity. Interdisciplinary research work promotes a university education that strives to develop far-sighted concepts and solutions.

Universities of the Arts – Tradition and Modernity
Whether it is music, dramatic arts, fine arts or applied arts, Austria’s universities of the arts provide an ideal space to tap into the fascinating interaction of art and science and acquire an exquisite education in a host of subjects.

Private Universities (Privatuniversitäten)

Austrian private universities offer innovative and high quality education and provide students with personal attention at the highest academic level. Continuous internal and external evaluation of teaching and research as well as active promotion of the arts assures constant university quality development. The Austrian private universities refine existing and establish new degree programmes based on current and future educational needs. Periodic external reaccreditation reviews supplement internal quality management and provide graduates with excellent chances for their future careers.

Universities of applied science (Fachhochschulen)

As the name suggests, at universities of applied science (Fachhoschulen), the focus is primarily on the application of scientific knowledge and professional practice. Courses will also include practical experience via work placements and internships, which can last up to entire semesters. Universities of applied science usually offer bachelors and masters degrees in the following subject areas:

  • Business
  • Engineering
  • IT
  • Social Sciences
  • Media & Design
  • Health Services
  • Cultural Sciences

To attend a university of applied science, you usually need an Abitur qualification or a foreign equivalent. However, there are also an increasing number of pathways through the Austrian school system that enable students with other qualifications and practical experience to attend higher education institutions like Fachhochschulen.

University Colleges of Teacher Education

Teacher education in Austria is divided into the teaching qualification at primary level and the teaching qualification at secondary level (secondary schools or colleges for higher vocational education). Public and private university colleges of teacher education offer teaching qualifications at primary level, which have been established as four­year (eight­semester, workload 240 ECTS credits) bachelor’s (Bachelor of Education, BEd) and one­year (two­semester, 60 ECTS credits) master’s (Master of Education, MEd) degree programmes.

In addition to fulfilling other entry requirements, applicants will usually have to display artistic talent, either by submitting work or attending auditions. Exceptionally talented individuals may be able to apply without any qualifications, but the exact entry requirements vary from college to college.

Postgraduate education in Austria

If you have completed a bachelors degree, you might consider embarking on postgraduate education, such as a master’s or doctoral degree.

Master’s degree

Master’s degrees are offered by all kinds of higher education institutions in Austria.

PhD or doctorate

With a strong emphasis on research in its universities, Austria is an increasingly popular destination for PhD candidates. The only higher education institutions permitted to award doctoral degrees in Austria are universities (Universitäten).

Entry Requirements

For Austrians, admission to the bachelor’s degree is given by the obtaining of a school leaving certificate (Reifezeugnis), or successful completion of a special university entrance exam. Students in lower schools who completed apprenticeships as skilled workers may get an equivalent certificate known as Berufsreifeprüfung. Admission to the University of Applied Sciences may take into consideration previous vocational or technical experience and this institution, along with the University Colleges of Teacher Education, can have a selective admission process.

If coming from outside Austria, applications are sent to the Higher Education institution to which you are applying. You will need to have proof of nationality, and necessary educational certificates. For many, proof of proficiency in German is required or proof that German lessons have been attended for at least four years. Documentation providing proof in languages other than German must be legally translated.

Cost of higher education in Austria

One of the biggest bonuses to the higher education system in Austria is that citizens and students who have EU/EEA nationality pay no regular tuition fees. They do pay a token membership fee to the student union of €18 per semester. For all other students this is €726.27. Fees must be paid for in advance.

There are exemptions from paying these fees – for example, participants in exchange programmes, university partnerships and students from less developed countries.

For those studying at Universities of Applied Sciences, these institutions are entitled to charge fees of €363 per year.

Working in higher education in Austria

For staff working in higher education in Austria, their work is considered professional and desirable.

The standard working time at universities is 40 hours a week. Lecturers have separate agreements regulating working hours. Holiday entitlement varies according to whether they are employed under private law, but this is between 25 and 30 days. Holiday entitlement increases depending on age and length of service. The Universities of Applied Sciences are stipulated under private contract law which makes it more generous – 30 business days, increasing to 36 after 25 years of service.

Financial remuneration for employment in higher education in Austria does vary depending upon the type of institution one is employed at. At universities, higher-end pay for professors can be of a maximum of €6,817.90 a month. A lecturer can expect to be paid between €2,731 and €4,228 whilst a teacher at a College of Teacher Education can expect to receive between €2,239 and €2,615.


Author: Sofia Ivanov is a blogger at AustrianCareer.at. She holds a MA in international business and also contributes photography to AustrianCareer.at.

Leave your thoughts

“By expats for expats”

AustrianCareer.at is the first expat friendly job platform in Austria where you can find all English speaking job openings.

[email protected]