Country Report


Monitor Toolbox Austria

1. The teaching profession

Austria's education system faces considerable staff shortages. Serious shortage exits in early childhood education and care (ECEC) and in compulsory school education. In ECEC, the continuous expansion of supply combined with policy action to increase quality is expected to increase the need for additional staff by at least 11 200 people by 2030 (Löffler, 2022). Starting salaries are just above the OECD average with limited scope for progression (European Commission, 2022), which limits the attractiveness of the profession.

The teaching force is ageing, and student numbers are rising. Over one fourth of all teachers in Austria are aged 55 or more. However, the number of pupils in compulsory education in Austria is expected to increase by 5% up to 2030 in the age group 6 to 9 years and by 7% for 10 to 14 years (BMBWF, 2021). Austria's Education Report 2021 identifies the need to recruit more teachers, including side entrants (BMBWF, 2021). In addition, many graduates (especially in ECEC, close to half) choose not to enter the profession (European Commission, 2022).

So far, Austria lacks a comprehensive strategy to tackle staff shortages. The European Commission's Technical Support Instrument supports the development of an instrument for ‘ forecasting and steering the teaching workforce’. Under the project, two key deliverables will be presented: (1) a forecasting tool for effective short- and mid-term planning and (2) a human resource development framework for Austria's school system (European Commission, 2023). In October 2022, Austria launched an important campaign for the teaching profession, ‘Great job’1 with three main strands: (1) modernising the image of school, (2) encouraging new groups of people to join the profession via different routes or on a part-time basis and (3) developing teacher education. Additional measures aim to ease side entry into the teaching profession and to make this career option more attractive (BMBWF_1).

Teachers have been at the centre of reforms of Austria's education systems. The last decade witnessed a major reform of teachers’ working conditions and of teacher education (European Commission, 2020). Both reforms aimed to harmonise the qualification level and working conditions of teachers. Entry-level salaries were increased and aligned across different teacher categories. After the reform of teacher education, initial teacher education for all school teachers lead to a bachelor’s degree. Teachers in compulsory schools must hold a master’s degree, but this can be acquired during the first five years of teaching. Fourteen university colleges of teacher education (Pädagogische Hochschulen) ensure initial teacher training in compulsory education (primary education and compulsory lower secondary school, Mittelschule). There is limited mentoring and support available to new teachers (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2021). Only 10.8% of teachers have a mentor during the first five years in school, against the EU average of 19% (OECD, 2019).

Despite comparatively high salaries and attractive working conditions, teaching is not valued by society. Overall, teachers in Austria do not feel sufficiently valued by society (OECD, 2019)2. They are among the highest paid teachers in the EU (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2022). However, comparing their earnings to other tertiary educated workers, the profession looks less attractive: Teachers earn between 72% and 93% their earning, depending on the level they teach. School heads earn a much more comparable salary (1.02 to 1.36) (OECD, 20223). In addition, teacher salaries at ISCED 2 level progress more slowly: 13% after 10 years, 26.3% after 15 years and 87.3% at the end of the career (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2022). Austrian teachers work about the same as their colleagues in other EU countries (37.2hrs/37.5 EU average). They devote significantly more time to planning individual lessons, but less to counselling, administration and school management (OECD, 20194).

2. Early childhood education and care

The participation rate in early childhood education and care (ECEC) in Austria remains below the EU average and the EU target. The participation rate for children between the age of 3 and the compulsory primary schooling age of 6 was 89% in 2021 and has remained largely stable since 20175. This is 3.5 pps below the EU average and 7 pps below the EU-level target of 96% by 2030. Participation in ECEC varies between regions, with the highest rate in Lower Austria (95.6%) and the lowest in Styria (82.2%)6. Only 23% of under 3-year-olds participated in 2022 in formal childcare (EU 34.9%), far below the national Barcelona target of 31.9%7. The rate has barely increased since 20158. The share of part-time attendance is high: about two thirds of under 3-year-olds attend ECEC for 29 hours or less in 2022. Opening hours in Austria often do not cater for situations where both parents work full-time. About 35% of children (below the age of 3) attend private childcare facilities9.

Figure 1: Participation of children from age 3 to the starting age of compulsory primary education, 2013-2021

Improving quality in ECEC services is a priority for Austria. Regions and municipalities are responsible for providing ECEC services, which results in very uneven quality among institutions and across regions. The provision of ECEC services is supported by a funding agreement between the federal government and the Laender, covering 2022/2023 – 2026/2027. The agreement contains provisions to encourage improvements in quality, but it falls short of setting compulsory quality standards. (European Commission, 2021). The federal government is limited to organising staff training. In September 2020, the Ministry of Education, Science and Research set up the nationwide Advisory Board for Early Childhood Education to discuss all initiatives and to promote cooperation nationwide. The Board brings together experts from the federal, state and local governments, as well as from NGOs, academia and practice (BMBWF, 2023; Austrian Parliament, 2022a). Austria also aims to improve quality via the Technical Support Instrument funded by the European Commission focusing on 'Improving staff working conditions for better quality in early childhood education and care in Austria'. The Recovery and Resilience Facility covers part of the expenses incurred in expanding ECEC capacity.

3. School education

Foreign-born young people and people living in cities are more likely to leave education and training early. The share of 18-24-year-olds in Austria that leave education and training early (ELET) increased in 2022 to 8.4%, but this is still below the EU average (9.6%)10 and the EU-level target of below 9%. However, following years of improvement, it has slowly increased again since 2016 by 2.5 pps. Foreign-born 18-24-year-olds are three times more likely to leave education and training than young people born in Austria (19.2% vs 6.1%)11. Young people born outside of the EU are nearly four times more likely to leave early (23% compared to 6.1%). Contrary to most EU countries, Austria's early school leaving rate in cities (11.9% vs EU: 8.6%) is higher than in rural areas (5.3% vs EU average of 10%) and the gap has slightly widened. In cities it has increased by 2.4 pps since 2021 and 1.3 pps since 2012, while in rural areas, it has been relatively stable (rising only +0.2 pp since 2012)12.

Austrian pupils perform around the EU average on reading, but the latest international survey shows that performance is worsening over time. Austrian fourth graders achieved an average score of 530 points in the 2021 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) survey, slightly above the EU-19 average (527 points) (PIRLS 2022). Similarly to other EU education systems, Austrian pupils performed significantly worse than in 2016 (-11 points), close to the results reached in 2011. The share of low scoring pupils is 20%, below the EU19 average (23%) and identical to the 2011 results. The share of top performers at 7% is below the 8% EU19 average. While Austrian students have, according to PIRLS, a high level of self-perceived reading skills, the share of students who read little for information purposes continues to rise. Girls read more than boys; the gender gap in Austria is the widest since 2006 at 14 points (EU average is 12 points) (Illetschko, 2023).

Educational outcomes are influenced by socio-economic and migrant background. Austria's Education Report 2021 confirms the links between socio-economic background, the language spoken at home, school choice and early school leaving (BMBWF, 2021). This is in line with the findings from PIRLS 2021, which also showed a strong impact of socio-economic background on reading competences: the gap between pupils from low socio-economic backgrounds and their more affluent peers is 98 points, and hence above the EU average (80 points). Diversity in Austrian schools has increased over the years. In PIRLS, the share of pupils with a migration background has increased from 17% in 2006 to 25% in 2021. However, between 2006 and 2021 the gap in performance between pupils with and without a migrant background remained relatively stable (49 and 52 points respectively) (Illetschko, 2023). Schools report a lack of additional resources needed to deal properly with the challenge of increased diversity (European Commission, 2021); a possible pre-condition to improve overall performance.

An evaluation shows that efficient German language support should be integrated and go beyond the current two years of support for non-regular students. Teachers see some need for further development of the current German support model (Spiel, 2022). Austria's population continues to grow through migration, requiring non-German speaking students to be integrated effectively into the education system. The share of people with a migrant background increased from 18.7% in 2011 to 25.4% in 2021. In 2021/2022, 26.9% of students in all school types did not speak German at home, the highest share being in schools for children with special educational needs at 42.9% (Statistik Austria, 2023). Newly arrived pupils must pass a specific language test and pupils whose German language skills are insufficient for participation in class are registered as non-regular students. This applied to 8.3% of primary students and 1.6% of lower secondary students in middle school (Mittelschule) in 2021/2022 (Statistik Austria, 2023).

In compulsory school, about 45.8% of registered non-regular students (2021/2022) follow separate German support classes (Deutschförderklassen) (Statistik Austria, 2023), the remaining follow German support courses (Deutschförderkurse). The German language support model with a maximum duration of two years is designed to teach German intensively by specially trained teachers and with special curricula (Federal Law Gazette 2018 and 2019). In the third semester, only 29% of students could move in 2020 to regular education and 53% remained in the separated classes13 (Austrian Parliament 2022b and Spiel 2022).

An evaluation shows that the goal of transferring students to the regular school system as quickly as possible is not an appropriate criterion for success. After two years, when non-regular students join mainstream classes regardless of the progress made, almost half (44%) did not reach the target level of German language skills. Polled teachers and school heads favoured integrated learning environments. According to the study, smaller groups, more autonomy, additional resources, a more integrated than segregated approach and better trained teachers could improve the success of the model (Spiel, 2022).

An evaluation shows that the goal of transferring students to the regular school system as quickly as possible is not an appropriate criterion for success. After two years, when non-regular students join mainstream classes regardless of the progress made, almost half (44%) did not reach the target level of German language skills. Polled teachers and school heads favoured integrated learning environments. According to the study, smaller groups, more autonomy, additional resources, a more integrated than segregated approach and better trained teachers could improve the success of the model (Spiel, 2022).

Ensuring equal opportunities and improving basic skills and digital learning are high on Austria's national education agenda. Several initiatives have been taken to improve access to quality education, especially for disadvantaged pupils. These include support for 500 challenged primary and compulsory secondary schools through multi-professional teams (2017-2022), as well as the ‘100 Schools – 1 000 Opportunities’, the 100 Schulen – 1 000 Chancen initiative, which has been extended to 2024. In 2023, Austria has reformed the curricular to promote acquisition of basic competences and modern teaching methods. It has taken measures to narrow the learning gaps that opened up during the COVID-19 pandemic, for example by running a summer school programme. The nationwide standardised instrument for assessing core competences introduced in 2022 aims to strengthen basic skills. It seeks to boost German language learning by the continued development of German-language support measures, including a reading strategy. Austria will invest EUR 250 million by 2024 to support a variety of initiatives in digital education. It brought in a new compulsory subject ‘Basic digital education’ at lower secondary schools in 2022/23. The EU Technical Support Instrument supported Austria to develop and pilot a digital upskilling curriculum for teacher educators. The EU recovery and resilience fund (RRF) supports equipping mainly students in 5th grade with 240 000 digital end devices (Federal Chancellery).

An updated quality management system for schools entered into force. All schools were required to prepare a school development plan for a three-year period by January 2023. Internal school evaluation and feedback will be carried out regularly from the 2022/23 school year. The quality management system substitutes the two formerly separate quality systems (SQA – School Quality in General Education and QIBB – VET Quality Initiative) by bringing in a new and consistent system for all schools (BMBWF, 2020).

4. Vocational education and training

Austria is continuously developing its vocational education and training (VET) system. In response to the 2020 Council recommendation on VET and the Osnabrück Declaration, Austria has prepared a national implementation plan to tackle both the EU-level priorities and its national objectives for VET and lifelong learning. The plan aims to fill the shortage of skilled labour, improve the attractiveness of VET, make non-formal qualifications and informal learning visible and take action on internationalisation, greening and on the digitisation of the economy. An essential aim of the plan remains to tackle inequalities and ensure equal access to education.

Box 1: Apprenticeship training across multiple companies

Austria's ESF+ programme (2021-27) allocated a budget of around EUR 2 billion to education and training, a third of the total budget. The main focus of action is on facilitating access to training, career moves and lifelong learning. In education, it focuses on preventing drop-outs, promoting apprenticeships, providing career guidance and inclusive education.

The project BAG14-Measures 2016-2022 on Production, crafts and/or technical professions in the Neusiedl am See district provided comprehensive training for 152 people. The trainers involved came from a range of professions in manufacturing, craft, technical and service sectors. They guided young people to get an apprenticeship or to pass the apprenticeship exam.

Budget: EUR 4 343 925

Austria’s VET system supports sustainability and targets the green transition. To identify and close green skills gaps, Austria launched the project GREENOVET in 2022 and also provides initial and continuous education and training for the green transition to secondary teachers under the Green-Tech Academy(GRETA). The Academy promotes cooperation and networking in the knowledge triangle of research-economy-education, which also integrates regional vocational schools.

The Austrian agency responsible for Erasmus+ schemes (OeAD) and the Austrian Economic Chamber (WKO) have increased support for apprenticeships. The aim of the Apprenticeship without borders initiative is to double the number of apprentice positions abroad. It provides apprentices, schools and companies with information and implements the Instagram campaign Go beyond your borders. Beyond the OEAD the Dual Academy programme has been rolled out. This programme combines work-based learning in a company with education at a vocational school and a mandatory stay abroad designed to develop social, digital and international skills.

5. Higher education

Austria continues to increase the tertiary attainment rate, but regional variations remain. In 2022, 43.1% of young people aged 25 to 34 years held a tertiary degree (TEA), with the figures showing comfortable progress towards the 45% EU-level target. Over the last decade, the attainment rate has almost doubled (from 22.8% in 2012).15Similarly to the EU trend, the rate for women (47.6%) is higher than for men (38.7%). Although the gender gap is narrower than the EU average (8.9 pps vs 11.1), it has widened in Austria since 2012, more than the EU average (5.9 pps compared to 1 pp) 16. One reason is the higher share of women graduates from upper secondary school. In 2021/22, women obtained 56.6% of all Matura degrees that give access to tertiary education (Statistik Austria, 2022). The share of young people with a tertiary degree is particularly high among people born in other EU countries (49.8% vs EU 39.5%)17 and living in cities (53.3%)18. It is not even across Austria’s nine regions. While in Vienna, the capital city and region, every second young person had a tertiary degree in 2022 (52.2%), in Vorarlberg, the most Western region, it is only every third (33.2%). Higher education offers only a small premium in Austria. Young graduates aged 20 to 34 with a tertiary degree (ISCED 6-8) are only slightly more likely to be employed (91.1%) than their peers with a vocational training course (ISCED 3-4)19. Austrian tertiary graduates (25-64 years) typically have higher wages than the EU average20: 75 pps more than people with below upper secondary education and 37 pps more than people with post-secondary non-tertiary education (EU 73 pps and 40 pps respectively).

Access to tertiary education is strongly influenced by students’ background. Young people from a disadvantaged socio-economic or/and migrant background are less likely to complete higher education studies than their more advantaged peers. It is also linked to overall lower education outcomes in school education and the need to select the education track at an early age (Dibiasi, 2023). The national strategy on the social dimension in higher education adopted in 2017 aims to make higher education more inclusive. The mid-term evaluation from 2022 (Park, 2022) shows qualitative improvements and an important number of measures taken by higher education institutions regarding outreach and onboarding. However, the study also revealed insufficient progress on the nine quantitative targets. These included increasing the number of students entering higher education from non-traditional routes to 5 300, increasing access of students with a second generation migrant background to 30% or the share of students with low educational background to 18%. The goals will not be reached by 2025. The evaluation underpins the need for comprehensive action not only at the level of higher education, but also at secondary level. These include stronger cooperation with schools, better links across the education system and increasing training on inclusion and diversity in teacher training.

Figure 2: Gender gap (women - men) in tertiary attainment rate (25-34 years), 2012 and 2022 (percentage points difference)

The gender gap in STEM is wider in Austria than average. In the EU, about one third (32.7%) of STEM graduates are women, and in Austria only 28%. This also applies to ICT, with the EU average of about one fifth (21.2%) and 3.8 pps less in Austria (17.4%)21. Austria has made more progress in narrowing the gap at Bachelor's level than at Master's or PhD level. Research from 2021 (Dibiasi, 2021) found that the gender gap starts early in education with girls generally performing worse in school subjects relevant for STEM studies and in particular rating their own abilities significantly lower than the boys do (confidence gap). Girls are also less likely to choose school types that focus on developing STEM competences. When moving to higher education, women choose STEM studies considerably less often than men and when they do, a lower share complete the course. Successful strategies to reduce women's disadvantage in STEM fields must start early and continue during studies (Dibiasi, 2021). In June 2023, the government combined existing initiatives with new initiatives and addresses the entire education chain from kindergarten to university graduation across all levels of education in the new action plan Join in STEM22.

Austria is stepping up digitalisation in higher education. At the end of 2022, the Ministry of Education, Science and Research issued a strategic framework Universities and Digital Transformation 2030 (BMBWF 2022a). Developed in the context of the Digital Action Plan Austria the document creates a vision for the public universities in the year 2030 and defines the mission and eight fields of government action, ranging from digitalisation of research and teaching to specific measures to enhance Austria’s international competitiveness as a location for research. The framework complements the 2021 recommendations on digital teaching, learning and eAssessment at higher education institutions issued by the Austrian Higher Education Conference, providing detailed guidance (BMBWF 2022b).

Austria will increase the number of places available to study STEM. Higher education in Austria is fully funded by the public budget (OECD, 2020). The Ministry of Education, Science and Research will provide EUR 284 million out of EUR 1.8 billion for universities of applied sciences to partially finance the development and financing plan 2023/24 to 2025/2623. The plan will enable institutions to add an additional 1 050 places over the next three years with a focus on STEM, digitalisation and sustainability.

6. Adult learning

Participation in adult learning is relatively high, but access remains a challenge for low-qualified persons. In 2022, 15.8% of adults participated in learning (against the EU average of 11.9%)24, but participation of low qualified adults remains insufficient at 6.2% (vs 26.4% with a tertiary qualification). Participation in rural areas is about half that in cities (11.7% against 21.8%, a wider gap than the EU average, 9 pps against 14 pps). Some measures have become key parts of the adult learning landscape (adult learning initiative). They include (1) the Adult Education Initiative (Initiative Erwachsenenbildung), with components of basic education and the compulsory school-leaving certificate, (2) the Educational Guidance (Bildungsberatung Österreich (BMBWF_4) Bildungsberatung) with its networks, and (3) the Continuing Education Academy (wba), which validates and accredits the competences of adult educators.

The federal government developed the Sprungbrett (springboard) project to combat long-term unemployment. By the end of 2022, it had supported over 47 000 workers, providing them with guidance and training while supporting companies that hire the long-term unemployed through a subsidy (BMAW 2021).

The federal government extended the skilled labour scholarship (Fachkräftestipendium). It funds training in deficit occupations such as the health/nursing/social sectors, mathematics, information technology, natural sciences and technology. Funding is provided for full-time training in a formal educational qualification below the level of the university of applied sciences, for at least 20 hours per week.

The government subsidises companies to train staff in digital skills. ‘Digital Skills Cheques’ reimburse the costs incurred by small and medium-sized enterprises for professional training of their employees on digital skills. Educational institutions that hold an Austrian AT-Cert qualification and provide training on digital competences are recognised educational providers for the ‘Digital Skills Cheques’ funding25.


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Publication details

  • Catalogue numberNC-AN-23-026-EN-Q
  • ISBN978-92-68-06208-1
  • ISSN2466-9997
  • DOI10.2766/506622