Nonformal educational opportunities in Austria are adult education and instructional-technology initiatives, including distance-learning. Adult education refers to learning opportunities that are pursued after the completion of formal education for various purposes, such as life-long learning for personal enrichment, attainment levels of certification after the completion of formal education and, in most cases, after substantial working experience. Updating skills and qualifications related directly to one's career, required for promotion, or maintaining certification. Unlike school and university education, adult education in Austria is not regulated by constitutional law. The 1973 Promotional Measures Act remains a key legislative foundation for adult education, since it provides for Federal Centers for the Promotion of Adult Education.
Adult-education courses are offered in schools for working individuals by various interest groups, private providers, and under the coordination of the Austrian Conference of Adult-Education Institutions. The most important providers of further career training are the quasi-private Vocational Training Institute and the Institute for Economic Development. Although adult-education initiatives are now further coordinated in a department of the Federal Ministry of Education, Science, and Cultural Affairs, the nature of adult education calls for the involvement of other managing and funding agencies, including the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the Federal Ministry of Science and Transport, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, as well as the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs.
Personal-enrichment courses and programs are offered under the auspices of the Austrian Adult-Education Centers. One of the key challenges confronting nontraditional learning in a centrally legislated and administered system is the development and integration of new learning technology opportunities, both in all levels of formal schooling and in adult education.
Distance-education programs have been offered in Austria since 1979 under the coordination of the Inter-University Research Institute for Distance-Education Programs. Courses including mathematics and teacher education have been developed. For other distancelearning courses and degree-level programs of study students may enroll through the Open University in Hagen, Germany, which offers normal degree courses in economics, law, social sciences, education, and management. Currently, some 2,000 Austrian students are enrolled in these programs. Other forms of nontraditional and outreach education include short-term courses), supplementary courses, specialization courses, study-abroad programs, senior-citizen access to courses, and complementary courses for graduates of foreign universities.
Austrian universities are entitled to develop distance-learning courses under the 1997 University Studies Act. Together with initiatives toward greater autonomy in schools and universities, distance education is likely to play an increasingly important role as a customized, site-independent, learning facilitator.
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