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Higher Education

The organization and differentiation of Austrian higher education institutions reflect an educational philosophy that is, in many respects, similar to secondary education. The accent is on a variety of postsecondary options that meet specific professional needs, permit qualification at the highest level of one's career, and offer academic programs of study at a university. Most types of higher-education institutions combine research and teaching. This ensures that earned qualifications represent high intellectual standards and state-of-the-art research. Unless otherwise noted, admission requires the Matriculation Exam, TVE diploma, and/or a Higher Education Entrance Examination.

Several types of postsecondary colleges provide further education and certification in particular professional fields: Postsecondary Para-Medical College leading to certification in fields like physiotherapy, radiology, and dietetics; Postsecondary College for Social Work leading to advanced certification in fields like youth and family counseling and crisis intervention; Postsecondary Teacher Training College leading to certification of teachers in primary, lower secondary, special education, and the prevocational year; Postsecondary Vocational Education College, leading to certification for technical/vocational schools and colleges; and Postsecondary Religious Education College, leading to certification for religious-education teachers in primary and secondary schools.

An important innovation in the development of advanced courses of study came in 1993 with the enactment of the Advanced Professional Studies Act. It marked the establishment of a new type of postsecondary educational institution in Austria. Advanced postsecondary professional studies offer advanced professional and academic training in specific fields. The course of study differs from most other postsecondary courses of study in the fact that admission requires several years of professional experience in the field of study. Approval of particular advanced postsecondary professional courses of study rests with an independent Advanced Postsecondary Professional Studies Council, and specific courses of study may be offered under the auspices of state or public corporations.

Postsecondary programs comprise a minimum of six semesters of study and, where required, practical training. Graduates of advanced postsecondary professional courses of study earn the academic degree of Master's Degree or Certified Engineer with the designation FH. These postsecondary degrees are internationally recognized. During the 1998-1999 academic year, 46 courses of advanced study were offered. Of the 7,869 students enrolled, some 2,202 were female (Statistisches Jahrbuch 2001). The most popular fields of advanced study include technology, business administration, and tourism.

There are 13 Austrian universities and 6 colleges for music and the arts, all of which are public. The number of private universities and colleges is very small, and they do not play a significant role in Austrian higher education. They include the IMADEC University (Vienna) and the International University (Vienna), both of which have a strong international business and law basis, and the Catholic Theological Private University (Linz).

The tradition of Austrian university education is long and internationally respected. The University of Vienna, founded in 1365, is the oldest university in the German-speaking countries. The most recent addition, the Danube University of Krems, was established in 1994. Its focus is on postgraduate professional and continuing-education courses of study. Although Austrian universities remain under the authority of the federal government and its various ministries, there have been significant initiatives to move Austrian universities toward greater autonomy. The 1993 University Organisation Act grants universities greater flexibility in matters of internal organization and statutes, while the federal government is responsible for strategic planning and funding. The 1997 University Studies Act coordinates policies on admissions requirements, degree programs, and academic degrees. The 1998 Universities of the Arts Organisation Act granted full university status to the former arts and music academies.

Prerequisite for admission to university study is the Matriculation Exam or its equivalent, which may include the Higher-Education Entrance Exam or the Technical/Vocational Exam, or TVE. In addition, some courses of study at university and admission to the arts and music universities require an aptitude or entrance examination. Information about admission requirements for foreign students is coordinated under NARIC, the Austrian National Academic Recognition Information Center.

Students pay a small student fee per semester. Austrian students, European Union citizens, and some groups of foreign students do not pay tuition for university education. All other foreign students pay a nominal tuition fee. All students are entitled to state-supported health insurance, and most Austrian students are entitled to some form of financial assistance. Foreign students may be eligible for need-based and merit-based public and private financial assistance, grants, or scholarships.

Austrian universities are organized on the principle of shared faculty and administrative governance. The most important administrative bodies are the Rektor (Chancellor), the Dekan (Dean), and the Institutsvorstand (Academic Program Chair). They are elected by various university committees, each of which represents, to a greater or lesser degree, tenured and non-tenured faculty members, other staff, and students. The university's overall curriculum is coordinated by a Studienkommission (Curriculum Committee).

Coordination among universities is promoted at the federal level through the Federal Ministry for Education, Science, and Cultural Affairs, at the administrative level through the österreichische Rektorenkonferenz (Standing Conference of Austrian Rectors), and at the curricular level through Gesamtstudienkommissionen (Joint Curricular Commissions).

During the 1998-1999 academic year, 228,936 students were enrolled in Austrian universities (Statistisches Jahrbuch 2001). Women made up 48 percent and foreign students 13 percent of total enrollment, respectively. Of the 15,789 graduates from Austrian universities during the same year, women made up 46 percent and foreign students 10 percent of the total. Despite increasing female enrollments during the past decade, women constituted only 7.7 percent of the 2,001 faculty members and slightly less than 30.0 percent of all instructional staff at Austrian universities.

The following three kinds of academic degrees are awarded by Austrian universities: Diplom (Diploma) degrees after the conclusion of a corresponding degree program, which lasts from eight to twelve and eight to sixteen semesters at university and art colleges, respectively. Graduates of regular degree programs are conferred with the title of Magister/Magistra (gender specific titles: men/women) abbreviated Mag., for most degree programs or Diplom-Ingenieur/Diplom-Ingenieurin, (gender specific titles: men/women), abbreviated Dipl.-Ing or DI for specific degree programs in engineering and applied sciences. Doktor (Doctor) degrees come after the conclusion of a corresponding doctoral program. Graduates are conferred with the academic title of Doktor/Doktorin, (gender specific titles: men/women) abbreviated Dr. Special programs of study lead to Masters degrees after the conclusion of a corresponding university course program at the graduate level, consisting of a minimum of 70 semester credit hours: Master of Advanced Studies, abbreviated MAS, or Master of Business Administration, abbreviated MBA.

The most popular degree programs are social sciences and economic, liberal arts, law, and the natural sciences, which together represent more than half of the total number of degree-seeking students enrolled in the 24 general programs of study. Almost half of the 28,956 foreign students studying at Austrian universities during the 1998-1999 academic year came from Italy, Germany, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Foreign study is encouraged and supported. In addition to the federal funding that universities receive to cultivate international relations in the areas of research, cooperation with universities abroad is promoted through a variety of different initiatives, including subsidized university partnerships, bilateral governmental agreements with other countries in the form of scientific-technical or cultural exchanges, and multilateral agreements under the auspices of international organizations.

Federally-funded scholarships facilitate the exchange of students in both directions: for Austrians to study abroad at foreign universities and for students from abroad to study at Austrian universities. The Austrian Exchange Service provides information for foreign students wishing to study at Austrian universities. In addition, there are bilateral scholarship arrangements that exist under the auspices of cultural and other special agreements as well as a network of treaties on the academic recognition of secondary school leaving certificates, examinations and academic degrees. Austria is a signatory to the UNESCO Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas, and Degrees Concerning Higher Education in the States Belonging to the European Region and the European Convention on the Equivalence of Diplomas.

Austria's membership in the European Union has increased the country's integration into important common educational and research initiatives undertaken in the EU. In March 1995, the European Union launched the comprehensive pilot SOCRATES program for the promotion of educational cooperation of all kinds and at all levels. It consists of ERASMUS (for universities and university-level education), COMENIUS (for schools), and transfer measures (in particular LINGUA for the promotion of learning foreign-language learning, adult education, as well as open-and distance-learning). More than half of its large budget has been allocated for higher education.

In December 1994, the European Union's new program for vocational and professional education and training, LEONARDO DA VINCI, was launched. At least 25 percent of the total budget is allocated to promote cooperation between universities and the private sector. In particular, Austria acknowledges its geographic and ethnic proximity to eastern Europe by fostering direct exchange and equivalency agreements with countries like Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia. In 1990, the Austrian Academic Exchange Service established the Office of Exchange Program with Central and Eastern Europe to coordinate targeted programs on a national level. CEEPUS, the Central European Program for University Studies is a multilateral treaty between Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. It coordinates collaboration in the areas of education and continuing education, especially with respect to transferability.

Austria has more than 50 research libraries open to the public. The Austrian National Library in Vienna, founded in 1526, is the largest. A further approximately 200 public research libraries have restricted access. There are also several hundred private libraries in Austria. The university libraries in Vienna, Graz, and Innsbruck are the largest. For historical records, the National Archives in Vienna remains an indispensable source. Together, libraries and archives play a crucial role as repositories of published research. Interlibrary loan arrangements and technology make holdings at specialized libraries and archives increasingly accessible to students and researchers.

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