Bologna Country Updates: Austria


Legislative Framework

The higher education sector in Austria is currently undergoing a fundamental process of reform. The reform movement started in 1993 with the implementation of the University Organization Act, which promoted greater institutional autonomy, more efficient management structures, and introduced institutional evaluation of study programs. Under separate legislation in 1993, Austria adopted the binary system by permitting the establishment of fachhochschulen (universities of applied science), which have flourished ever since. In 2000, the University Accreditation Act was passed to regulate and legalize private and foreign higher-education providers. The Universities Act of 2002, which amends and replaces the 1993 laws, has furthered quality assurance procedures with a commitment to create a unified national system for accrediting all institutions of higher education under the Austrian Agency for Quality Assurance.

The amendment of the University Studies Act in 1999 and the implementation of the new Universities Act in 2002 created the legal basis for introducing a two-tiered system of bachelor’s and master’s degrees, which are currently being established over a ten-year period in accordance with the provisions of the Bologna Declaration. The amendment of the Fachhochschule Study Act became effective in 2002 and provides the legal basis for the bachelor/master degree structure at universities of applied science. All newly introduced study programs are required to comply with the reformed structure. ECTS [2] (The European Credit Transfer System) and the Diploma Supplement have also been introduced within the provisions of the 2002 laws.
A monitoring committee, set up by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, tracks the implementation of the Bologna reforms in Austria. The first report was published in 2001. The second one will cover the academic years 2001/02 and 2002/03 and is due to be published in summer 2004.

1. Easily Readable and Comparable Degrees

In August of 2002, the Universities Studies Evidence Decree was promulgated to regulate the implementation of the Diploma Supplement. Starting in October 2003, Diploma Supplements have been issued in both German and English to all graduates upon request.
The Austrian ENIC/NARIC [3] works through the Ministry of Education.
Austria has both signed and ratified the Lisbon Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region.

2. Degree Structure

Austria adopted the Bakkalaureat as a first university degree in September 1999. Programs leading to this qualification were introduced the following year, and the first cohort of new degree holders graduated in 2003. As of 2003/2004, as many as 180 individual bachelor programs have been adopted at Austrian universities.
The current plan is to offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees in at least 50 percent of all academic fields by 2006. All newly introduced programs must adhere to the two-tiered structure called for by the Bologna Declaration. Universities can no longer offer the traditional long first degrees. Students who began their studies under the old system have the option of staying in that program or transferring to the new, bakkalaureat program. Admission requires the Reifeprufung or Matura, the Austrian school-leaving certificate awarded upon the completion of 12 years of elementary and secondary education.
The Traditional System
The traditional Diplomstudium/Magisterstudium programs last four-to-five years, but in fact most students usually take longer to finish. The programs are divided into two cycles: The first cycle introduces the student to an area of specialization and concludes with an examination known as the Erste Diplomprüfung.
The second cycle entails in-depth study and concludes with an examination, the Zweite Diplomprüfung, and a written thesis. Students who successfully complete this stage of higher education are awarded either a Magister or a Diplom degree, depending on the field of study.
The New System
Stage I:
The majority of first-cycle (bakkalaureus) programs are three years (180 ECTS) — six semesters – in length. In addition, there are a small number of engineering and science programs that are 3.5 years (210 ECTS) – seven semesters – in length. The Bakkalaureat is awarded to students who successfully complete the required coursework and pass the Bakkaureatsprüfung (final exam).
Access to fachhochschulen first-tier programs is based on the Reifeprufung/Matura or on the Studienberechitigungsprüfung for non-secondary school leavers, or a relevant professional qualification in combination with certain additional examinations in subjects of general education. The fachhochschule bachelor programs last six to seven semesters, including one practical training semester. Successful completion of the program leads to the Bakkalaureat (FH).
Note: The old diploma programs are still being offered in some fields such as engineering and medicine. These programs require a minimum of five years of study leading to a diploma (e.g. Diplom-Ingenieur).
Stage II:
The master’s degree program is 1.5 to 2 years in length (90-120 ECTS credits) leading to the academic degree of Magister. Currently, new second-tier magister programs are being offered in parallel with the integrated four- to five-year magister. Whether or not a program is offered as a two-tier or one-tier program is dependent on the individual faculties offering them and whether or not they have transitioned to the new system. The magister is considered equivalent whether earned through the four-year model or through the 3+2 / 3.5+1.5 model.

Stage III:

The doctoral degree requires one-to-two years beyond the magister or diplom degree. Candidates must defend a written dissertation and pass an oral exam. Those who successfully complete all the requirements for this final phase of higher education are conferred the title of Doktor.

3. Credit Transfer

Starting in 1999, the implementation of ECTS (European Transfer Credit System) has been compulsory for all bachelor and master’s degree programs. Since October 2002, ECTS has also been compulsory for the diploma programs (old system) and teacher training programs. By 2003, ECTS had been implemented in a majority of fields of study in Austria.
For an example of how ECTS works in the Austrian system of higher education, refer to the ECTS User’s Guide [4] at the Graz University of Technology.
A number of university programs have posted ECTS grade equivalencies on their Web sites. Although these grading scales do not represent official equivalencies, they provide an idea of how ECTS and the Austrian grading system might compare.
ECTS Grade
% of students normally achieving the grade
Austrian Grade
(Sehr Gut) Excellent: outstanding performance with only minor errors
(Gut) Very good: above the average standard but with some errors
(Befriedigend) Good: generally sound work but with a number of notable errors
(Genügend) Satisfactory: fair but with significant shortcomings
(Genügend) Sufficient: performance meets the minimum criteria
(Nicht Genügend) Fail: some more work required before the credit can be awarded
(Nicht Genügend) Fail:Considerable further work is required
University of Salzburg [5], Faculty of Law
Steyer Fachhochscule [6]


4. Mobility

There are a wide range of scholarship programs aimed at promoting cross-border mobility among students and university graduates alike. These include: the Central Exchange Program for University Studies–CEEPUS, the Austro-Czech Exchange Program, the Austro-Hungarian Exchange Program, the Austro-Slovak Exchange Program in addition to grants for postgraduate programs in non-German countries and national top-ups for ERASMUS grants.
Efforts to remove obstacles to teacher, researcher and student mobility play a central role. This also calls for making active efforts not only for outgoing, but also for incoming students, teachers and researchers.
In 2001/2002 the number of international students attending Austrian institutions of higher education was 2,460, while the number of Austrians studying abroad was 3,024. For academic year 2002/2003, those figures rose to 2,836 and 3,325 respectively. In terms of teacher mobility numbers, exchanges have risen from 487 to 521 and 543 to 599 respectively.

5. Quality Assurance

In 2000, the University Accreditation Act was passed to regulate private and foreign higher-education providers along the lines of the already-established Fachhochschule Council.
Austria first began steps to create a national system for accrediting higher education institutions in January of 2002 with the establishment of the Accreditation Council [7]. The new Council, which was set up along the lines of the already existing Fachhochschule Council, is currently monitoring the quality of education in several institutions. In addition, the Universities Act of 2002 calls for new relationship between the state and universities based largely on performance-based contracts, which will facilitate quality control.
In October of 2003,the Austrian Agency for Quality Assurance (AQA) was founded as an association by the Austrian Rectors´ Conference [8], the Conference of the Fachhochschule, the Association of Private Universities, The Student Union [9] and the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Culture.
AQA provides quality assurance training at the institutional level (thereby recognizing that quality management is primarily the responsibility of the universities and colleges) offers administrative and organizational support for evaluation projects, and offers information and advice on all aspects of quality assurance in higher education. AQA works in close cooperation with the European Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education [10] (ENQA) to facilitate the exchange of quality assurance methods.

6. Promotion of European Dimensions in Higher Education

Austria has developed joint curricula and university programs with a European content as well as joint and double degrees. The Universities Act of 2002 authorizes Austrian universities to issue joint degrees together with partner institutions.
Five Austrian universities and one teacher training college have participated in the Tuning Project, which addresses several of the Bologna action lines and notably the adoption of a system of easily readable and comparable degrees, the adoption of a system based on two cycles and the establishment of a system of credits. The conclusions of the participants in areas such as the definition of generic and subject specific learning outcomes and competencies and curriculum development was presented in May 2002 to the Austrian Rectors’ Conference.
Survey on Master Degrees and Joint Degrees in Europe, Christian Tauch and Andrejs Rauhvargers, Sept. 2002
The State of Implementation of ECTS in Europe, European University Association, Oct. 2002
Diploma Supplement — State of Implementation, European Commission, last update June 2003
Lisbon Convention Status Reports, Council of Europe, status as of August 29, 2003
The Information Network on Education in Europe Eurydice [11], European Union
World Class Reform of Universities in Austria, Barbara Sporn — International Higher Education, Boston College, Fall 2002
The Bologna Bachelor’s Degree: An Overview [12] — Mariam Assefa and Robert Sedgwick, World Education News & Reviews, New York, Jan/Feb 2004
Austria, Education System — International Association of Universities, UNESCO [13] 2002/2003
AUSTRIA, State of Implementation of the Bologna Objectives – Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Culture [14], Autumn 2003
Implementing the Bologna Process in Austria
Erasmus Mobility by Country 2001/2002 — ECTS Workshop, Feb. 20-21, 2003, UK Socrates Erasmus Council [15]
University Organization and Studies Act (Universities Act 2002)