Career Colleges and Vocational Schools in Austria
Austria, with its unique education system and its tendency to favor intellectual and cultural pursuits over technical vocations, has not had much history with vocational schools. Trades and crafts were historically learned on-the-job in apprentice programs and what we today would call internships. With increasing economic pressure on the education system, however, this is changing. For the last 20 years, Austria has had a system of vocational training based on the one that had already been adopted by their neighbors, the Germans.
Beginning in 1990, Austrian educational authorities developed a new system of career colleges, technical and vocational schools called Fachhochschulen, roughly translated as Universities of Applied Sciences. These schools, which offer training in career skills and trades in addition to the applied sciences, are the main form of advanced technical and vocational training in Austria.
A Fachhochschulen program typically takes 3 years to complete, as opposed to 4 years at an academic college. This shorter time frame is accomplished by limiting students’ freedom to set their own schedules and customize their curriculum. The goal is a quick, practical, somewhat Spartan education without the added intellectual perks of a four-year college.
Unlike vocational schools and career colleges in most countries, which tend to offer certificates instead of degrees, vocational schools in Austria actually offer Bachelor’s Degrees, but not of the same sort as the more traditional schools. They are also independent institutions, typically unattached to larger universities. In this respect, they differ sharply from professional schools, which also offer applied degrees and career training, but are usually part of a university.
A further development that has changed the nature of technical training in Austria is the recent decision by educational authorities to offer accreditation to private institutions. In many other countries, vocational training is provided primarily by private entities, not state-funded schools, so the accreditation of privately-owned and operated schools opens the door for a much wider variety of career colleges and vocational schools in Austria’s cities. Like in any country, there are also unaccredited “schools” in Austria, but since they do not conform to the standards of any regulating body they are often unreliable and their degrees and certificates are not given much credibility.
The evolution of Fachhochschulen in Austria has been heavily influenced by the Bologna process under the auspices of the European Higher Education Area, of which Austria is a member. The EHEA guidelines for vocational training cover the Fachhochschulen of Austria, and so the country’s educational authorities have been working on to integrating their curricular systems with those of other European countries. The advantage of this is that it enables Austrian graduates to do well in the highly competitive job markets of continental Europe.
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