Back to School! The Vienna Survival Guide for Education helps expats aged 1 to 100 navigate a complex system.
Metropole adds another title to its Survival Guide series this November – this time, we tackle education in Austria. Here, an excerpt from the introduction
Compulsory education has a long tradition in Austria – the first six mandatory years were introduced by Empress Maria Theresa in 1774. By 1869, it rose to eight years of schooling, and the number has climbed to nine today. As in most countries, to be highly educated is a sign of prestige – just have a look at Austria’s love of titles.
What’s in a Name?
A staggering 1,500 academic and job titles are regulated by law. Whether in the doctor’s office, at business meetings or in a traditional Viennese Kaffeehaus, the obsession is on display – it is still the case that in old-fashioned establishments, a Doktor (Dr.) or Professor (Prof.) may enjoy quicker service or an extra nodding smile. The reasons why titles like Magister (Mag.) and Diplom-Ingenieur (Dipl. Ing.) are so dear to the national soul are historical: Title-based hierarchies were a necessity in the vast Habsburg Empire, especially in the military administration. The monarchs also realized that handing out fancy ranks fostered motivation just as much as pay raises – without straining the imperial coffers. Today, thanks to the Bologna reforms and an increasing internationalization in business and academia, the craze may be subsiding. For example, while in the past the Burgtheater online subscription form would make you scroll through 200 title options, now you only have to fill in a box.
A whiff of pretension aside, however, having the right education matters in Austria just as it does the world over – it opens doors, but also minds. The best possible education is something that adults want for themselves, and that parents want for their children.
Finding the Right Path
How does Austria ensure that today’s babies become tomorrow’s most competitive engineers, doctors, lawyers? As it turns out, educators and policy makers have varied philosophies, and so education is the subject of constant and heated debate. But while each new government proclaims major reform ideas, change to school set-ups and teaching methods has been slow in coming. The most recent effort, the Pedagogics Package (Pädagogik-Paket), was presented in the spring of 2018 but is only partly ratified, and reforms had only been partially implemented by the time the government fell in the summer of 2019. The three main changes so far are the re-introduction of number grades in primary schools (Ziffernnoten from 1 for excellent to 5 for fail), the possibility of achievement-based student groupings in the Neue Mittelschule (new middle schools), and the addition of a voluntary 10th year of schooling at vocational schools (Polytechnische Schulen). But what does that mean, and how might this affect you or your family?
The VIENNA SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR EDUCATION will tell you everything you need to know about the Austrian education system, focusing on the questions you and other expats have likely asked yourselves, such as: Should my bilingual child go to an international or to a regular Austrian school? Which options do kids have after compulsory education? Can I study at the university for free even if I don’t have Austrian citizenship? Where can I learn Chinese or acquire skills in business administration as an adult?
Providing a comprehensive overview of the Austrian education system, this guide zooms in on the questions that concern expats who are staying long-term or short-term in Vienna. Throughout the guide, testimonials will shed light on the challenges faced and the solutions found by your fellow expats – including an extensive glossary of those German technical terms you’re bound to encounter at the playground, at parent-teacher conferences or in all those forms you will inevitably need to fill out.