Maria Theresia Is to Blame

In September, over 220,000 Viennese students went back to school. Some go willingly, some have to be dragged, but Austrian parents have a stock response to unwilling schoolgoers: Blame Maria Theresa

It was in 1774, under the reign of Maria Theresia, Austria’s only female head of state ever, that six years of compulsory schooling became law of the land. Children in the Habsburg Empire, from a farmer’s child to aristocratic offspring, were to be schooled in their native language. Maria Theresia was a pioneer of public education in 18th century Europe.

Alas, subsequent rulers had less appetite for education. It took almost a century and a lost war against Prussia before the Reichsvolksschulgesetz of 1869 brought sweeping reforms. The law extended obligatory schooling to eight years and limited class sizes to 80. It also stripped the supervision of schools from the Catholic church.

From then on, school reforms picked up speed (by Austrian standards). Six decades later, in 1927, the First Republic established Hauptschulen for all those who couldn’t gain admission to the prestigious Gymnasium. And 35 years later, in 1962, the government extended obligatory schooling to the nine years of today.

Much to Learn From Maria Theresia

Since then, many have attempted to tinker with the system, to no great avail. The current approach is much bolder: An entirely new concept of compulsory education including apprenticeships and career training, up to age 18.

Chancellor Kern (SPÖ) has even suggested extending this to age 25, signaling that education may be a central issue of his term. With the last substantial reform already half a century behind us, it’s about time. As Maria Theresia would attest, there’s no better way to win Austrians’ respect than to make them go to school – even if they’d never admit it.



You’re fascinated by the Habsburgs and their former Empire? Then you may love our book From Empire to Republic. In it, journalists from 13 countries in Central and Eastern Europe tell the story of their home, then and now.


It’s been a century since the Habsburg Empire was dissolved. In the fall of 1918, the Empire disintegrated into nation states, many of them newly independent republics. This book tells their story.

In honor of these republics’ centennial in 2018, Metropole embarked on year-long reportage project. We cooperated with news outlets and individual journalists from all across Central and Eastern Europe.

Working together across borders, cultures and languages, we collected photos, interviews and first-hand experiences, resulting in this unique compendium of Central Europe as it has evolved over the last one-hundred years.

Benjamin Wolf
Benjamin studied Journalism, History and International Affairs. After stints with Cafébabel in Paris and Arte in Strasbourg, he is now working as managing editor and COO for Metropole in Vienna. Fields of expertise are politics, economics, culture, and history. Photo: Visual Hub

RECENT Articles


Join over 5,000 Metropolitans, who already get monthly news updates and event invitations.