The General Directorate for Vocational Education and Training, Adult Education and School Sport (GD VET) of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, the Arts and Culture (BMUKK) is responsible for those tasks of educational administration within the VET sector which – according to legislation – are within the BMUKK remit. School legislation is implemented in the governmental school authorities, i.e. the regional education boards at provincial level. The GD VET of the BMUKK is in charge of the following areas of school-based education: pedagogical matters and subject- and occupation-specific issues (e.g. curriculum development); continuing and further training of teachers; questions related to location and facilities; school development and research on education, training and qualifications; international cooperation; and much more.
VET schools and colleges provide initial vocational education and training (IVET) programmes of differing duration and at various levels in addition to broad general education from the ninth school year. VET schools and colleges include:
- Part-time vocational schools
- Schools and colleges for engineering, arts and crafts
- Schools and colleges of business administration
- Schools and colleges of management and service industries
- Schools and colleges of tourism
- Schools and colleges of fashion and clothing and of artistic design
- Schools of social occupations
- Colleges of agriculture and forestry
- Nursery teacher training colleges and colleges of social pedagogy including special forms for people in employment and pilot projects.
With the exception of part-time vocational schools (school-based training within the dual system), they can be organised in different forms with courses of differing length (1 – 5 years):
- 3 or 4 years: full-time school from the 9th school year; IVET qualification
- 1 or 2 years: full-time school from the 9th school year; vocational training basis
5 years: full-time school from the 9th school year; IVET qualification
Add-on course: 3 years:
full-time school from the 9th school year following completion of VET school
Post-secondary VET course
2 years: full-time school following completion of Reifeprüfung
Schools and colleges for people in employment
2 – 4 years: above mentioned school types in the form of an evening school
It is possible to change between the individual types of VET schools and colleges with the same curriculum. Should the curriculum differ, examinations (in certain subjects) are required.
Pathways to VET schools and colleges
After primary school (years 1 – 4), pupils may complete secondary level I (years 5 – 8) either at lower secondary school or at secondary academic school (lower level). Admission to VET schools and colleges (secondary level II) is possible upon successful completion of year 8.
Depending on previous education and desired school type, additional entry requirements include previous school performance in specific subjects and/or an entrance examination. More than 80% of Austrians over the age of 14 opt for a pathway in the VET sector.
Initial vocational education and training (IVET) is the major concern of VET schools and colleges, alongside the provision of sound general education. Direct entry into a profession or different forms of continuing vocational education and training (CVET) opportunities are an asset to their graduates.
VET schools and colleges have been experiencing continuous growth in the number of students for two decades, not least because of the balanced provision of broad general education, occupation-related theory and occupation-related practice (including compulsory or optional work-placements, depending on the type of school) and because of a variety of specific training opportunities and special training focuses of varying duration.
Since the early 1990s, VET colleges have been in particular demand, as they offer a Reifeprüfung certificate and VET diploma, which – with the acquisition of professional qualifications, the general higher education entrance qualification, and recognition of these programmes at a European level – ensures that graduates achieve a high qualification level: EU Directive 2005/36/EC provides access to a regulated profession in another Member State where access is contingent upon possession of a diploma certifying successful completion of higher or university education of (up to) four years’ duration.
The introduction of the Berufsreifeprüfung in 1997 has led to an increased permeability of the education system. The Berufsreifeprüfung does not lead to the acquisition of any professional qualifications but provides the general higher education entrance qualification to graduates of the dual system (apprenticeship-leave examination), graduates of VET schools of at least three years’ duration, graduates of schools for healthcare and nursing, graduates of schools for paramedical training, as well as to graduates of the skilled workers’ examination pursuant to the Vocational Training Act for Agriculture and Forestry and people with the entrance examination pursuant to the Trade, Commerce and Industry Regulation. For admission to the Berufsreifeprüfung exams, school attendance is not required.
The Berufsreifeprüfung comprises 4 partial exams: German, Mathematics, Modern Foreign Language, and an occupation-related Specialist Area. The Berufsreifeprüfung can be taken at VET colleges, secondary academic schools, nursery teacher training colleges, and the colleges of social pedagogy. The first partial exam can be taken as soon as candidates have turned 17, the last partial exam when they are 19.
Bridge courses are offered by adult education institutions recognised by the BMUKK (e.g. vocational training institutes [bfi], economic promotion institutes [WIFI], adult education centres [Volkshochschulen]) and some VET schools and colleges. In principle, exams set by VET schools and colleges and their special forms for people in employment, including the Reife- und Diplomprüfung and the final examination of VET school, can be taken without prior school attendance.
Relevant basic legislation is embodied in the School Organisation Act (SchOG) and School Instruction Act (SchUG) and can be changed by Parliament acting with a simple majority following a consultation process. The curricula of the various school types are decreed by the BMUKK as ordinances.
Costs and finance
With the exception of private schools, VET school and college attendance is free. This also applies to post-secondary VET courses and the special forms for people in employment. Contributions for textbooks, travel to school and materials have to be made, however. Fees are charged for school trips and other events as well as boarding facilities (grants are possible).
The federal government bears the costs of facilities and maintenance of public VET schools and colleges with the exception of schools of agriculture and forestry and part-time vocational schools (where costs are borne by the respective regional government, which is also in charge of these schools). The federal government also meets the salaries of teachers at VET schools and colleges including those at private schools with public-law status. The costs for teaching staff at part-time vocational schools and schools of agriculture and forestry are shared by the federal and regional governments.
At the upper secondary level, responsibility lies with the regional education boards competent at provincial level. Regional school inspectors, each of them in charge of a particular school type, are entrusted with supervision. The colleges of agriculture and forestry and some schools and colleges for engineering, industry and trade, however, are under direct supervision of BMUKK.
Involvement of other ministries
Certain areas of the VET sector fall within the remit of other ministries, such as of the Federal Ministry of Economy, Family and Youth (e.g. company-based training of apprentices and accreditation of professional qualifications), the Federal Ministry of Health (e.g. schools for healthcare and nursing) and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management.
The social partners
The Austrian system of economic and social partnership is based on voluntary cooperation between statutory and voluntary interest groups and with government representatives. Statutory interest groups: These are the representatives of the employers (Federal Economic Chamber), employees (Federal Chamber of Labour) and of agriculture (Standing Conference of the Presidents of the Agricultural Chambers). Voluntary interest groups include the Federation of Austrian Industry and the Austrian Trade Union Federation. In the field of school-based education, the social partners are involved in legislation and the adoption of ordinances (for new curricula, for example).
Cooperation with the business sphere
Cooperation with the business sphere plays a major role for all those concerned in the field of VET schools and colleges. On the one hand, curricula and special focuses are thus adapted to the requirements of the economy, on the other, enterprises offer subject-specific professional apprenticeship training and/or places for mandatory work-placement. The results of research and development are implemented in a practice-oriented way in joint projects between schools and industry, e.g. in the form of diploma projects or projects carried out in training firms. Nearly all teachers of occupation-related and practice-oriented subjects boast practical experience in the private sector.
Educational guidance and counselling at VET schools and colleges is provided by specially trained teachers, who are available for information and guidance, preparation for decision-making, assistance and individual advice to pupils. One to three teachers at every school are active in educational guidance and counselling, depending on the number of students there.
Educational counselling teachers work with feeder schools, with educational counselling teachers at lower secondary and lower secondary academic school, and other advisory services for school leavers (the Public Employment Service Austria, the representative body of university students Austrian Students’ Union, etc.).
Good assessment of Austrian schools
The annual educational monitoring survey is a comprehensive study in the framework of which 2,000 people from across Austria are questioned on the school and education system (since 1993). Assessment is based on the Austrian school grading system: ranging from “excellent (1)” = the best mark to “not sufficient (5)” (or “fail”) = the worst mark. The trend over the past few years reveals that the image of the individual school forms has improved or hardly changed; 60% of interviewees rate the Austrian national education system as “excellent (1)” or “good (2)”. In an overall comparison of ratings for individual school types, VET colleges and primary schools as well as Fachhochschule programmes achieve the best ratings with a mean value (school mark) of 2.0. Also in the mean value scale of 2.0 to 2.7 are the population ratings for part-time vocational schools and VET schools (with 2.2 each), which is a very positive result.
In the field of Continuous Vocational Education and Training (CVET), there are no explicitly defined legal or educational policy supervisory functions for the whole sector. BMUKK bears the responsibility for CVET in the school sector, the Federal Ministry for Science and Research (BMWF) for CVET in higher education institutions. CVET providers in non-school and non-higher educational CVET institutions are largely autonomous within the framework of legal specifications and mainly subject to the market conditions of supply and demand.
As far as quality and quality assurance in the CVET sector are concerned, the Ö-Cert initiative deserves attention. Ö-Cert is an Austrian-wide quality framework regarding the recognition of quality in Austrian adult education institutions. The Ö-Cert initiative aims to guarantee the mutual recognition of quality assurance measures of organisations between the regions as well as between the state and the regions and thereby sets a measure which promotes quality for the whole Austrian adult education sector.
Quality at VET schools and colleges
Various quality development processes have been established at all levels of the school system over the past few years. The joint and systematic treatment of quality issues at school – which forms an integrated part of school culture – is the prerequisite and starting point for ensuring a top notch forward looking school system. In this context the VET Quality Initiative QIBB plays an important role. The legal basis for QIBB can be found in § 18, Bundes-Schulaufsichtsgesetz and § 56, Schulunterrichtsgesetz .
The VET Quality Initiative – QIBB
QIBB (www.qibb.at; “QIBB” is short for the German “QualitätsInitiative BerufsBildung”) was launched by the GD VET to implement a comprehensive quality management system in Austrian VET schools and colleges.
Development activities on the QIBB concept started in 2004. By the 2006/07 school year, QIBB was already implemented at locations of all VET school types in nearly the whole of Austria: at part-time vocational schools; at schools and colleges for engineering, arts and crafts; at schools and colleges of business administration; at schools and colleges of management and service industries; at schools and colleges of tourism; at schools and colleges of fashion and clothing and of artistic design; at schools of social occupations; at colleges of agriculture and forestry; and at nursery teacher training colleges and colleges of social pedagogy.
QIBB is oriented towards the specific requirements of VET schools and colleges and not only covers the level of individual schools but all system levels (including educational administration and school inspection).
QIBB satisfies the criteria of nationally and internationally recognised quality management systems for educational institutions. QIBB is one element of the national strategy aiming at the implementation of the EQAVET Reference Framework which is described in the Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the establishment of a European Quality Assurance Reference Framework for Vocational Education and Training (June 2009). QIBB is in alignment with the EQAVET Reference Framework as regards objectives, guiding principles, priorities and structure.
QIBB’s core element is a quality management system aiming to systematically safeguard and develop teaching quality and administration services quality. Therefore, both pedagogical action (i.e.: initiating, supporting and facilitating socially relevant and school oriented education and training processes) and administrative action (i.e.: creating, securing and developing the framework conditions necessary for teaching and learning) are at the focus of attention.
QIBB comprises all institutional levels of the school system. Processes and instruments for quality assurance and quality development are not only implemented in schools; the model provides that also school inspection (regional level) and the BMUKK‘s GD VET (at the federal level) subject the activities (key processes) required to meet their central tasks to regular evaluation and continuous improvement. The basic principles of work on the quality of processes and results as well as the quality management instruments applied are the same at all three system levels.
The development process follows a continuous quality cycle with four stages: planning and setting of objectives (1), implementation (2), evaluation and measurement (3), and analysis, assessment, reporting (4). The same instruments are applied at every level and in every educational establishment:
- the mission statement (long-term orientation, core messages regarding function and self-image),
- the quality matrix (key processes, long-term and medium-term objectives, implementation measures, results, indicators, evaluation methods),
- the annual work programme (medium and short-term objectives),
- the objective-setting discussion or management & performance review,
- the procedures and instruments to collect evaluation data and
- the quality report.
The structure and core elements of QIBB correspond to the following guiding principles:
- output (results) orientation
- use of recognised quality management methods
- economical use of time and financial resources
- ethics in relation to evaluation objectives, measures, and handling of data
- integration of the gender dimension.
Evaluation is carried out in the form of self-evaluation (internal evaluation); in addition to the evaluation areas laid down by every educational establishment in accordance with its annual work programme, nationwide evaluation focuses are specified. To help with this, a range of evaluation instruments, into which tools for standardised data evaluation are integrated, are available centrally on the Internet for retrieval.
Every establishment submits its quality report to the relevant higher level of management once a year. The report contains a review of the year-end situation, taking into account the evaluation results, and a follow-up plan with strategic and operational objectives. Agreement regarding the future development and implementation objectives of a given organisation is reached in the form of a discussion between the managerial personnel of the two responsible management levels concerned. This objective-setting discussion is referred to in QIBB also as a “management & performance review” and builds on the quality report.
The introduction and implementation of QIBB is a cooperative endeavour involving all management personnel of the VET sector. A crucial precondition for successful implementation is the shared conviction that quality management not only means applying a bundle of specific management methods but should also be viewed as a management culture that can evolve only if all the stakeholders in the educational process participate actively in the quality process.
The management guidelines in QIBB are as follows:
- agreement on common objectives at the levels of schools, the school inspection and BMUKK / GD VET increases the efficiency of educational institutions;
- the standardisation of processes creates synergies and freedom of action;
- continuous improvement of the learning, teaching and working environment increases the institutions’ attractiveness and generates satisfaction among school partners;
- internal self-evaluation and nationwide evaluation focuses ensure that objectives are achieved and promote organisational development;
- openness and information create transparency and trust;
- motivation and recognition promote the school and organisational environment and encourage active involvement in the continuous improvement process;
- managers assume responsibility for quality management, act in a manner that promotes quality, and serve as a model to all;
- gender mainstreaming is viewed as a cross-sectional task that is inherent in quality management and must be tackled at every level of management and implemented in every area of educational institutions.
Peer Review in QIBB
Since autumn 2009 Peer Review in QIBB (www.peer-review-in-qibb.at) is an offer for VET schools and colleges in the frame of QIBB. The Peer Review in QIBB procedure and methodology is based on the European standard procedure for the use of Peer Reviews in initial VET (www.peer-review-education.net), which was developed in a few Leonardo da Vinci-Projects. The European Peer Review procedure was tested and adapted for QIBB in an Austrian pilot project with VET schools and colleges that included a study.
Peer Review is an evaluation instrument that aims at quality development and school development. A Peer Review process is being carried out by a group of external experts, so-called peers, who are invited to evaluate the quality of various areas of the hosting VET school or college.
Peers are often also called “critical friends”. A peer is a person, who is on equal standing with the person/s whose performance is being reviewed; a peer works in a similar professional environment, but is external and independent; a peer has specific professional expertise and knowledge in the field and can thus bring a degree of “inside” knowledge into the process and combine it with the external view of somebody coming from a different organisation. The central tasks of the peers are analysing the self-report of the hosting VET school or college, drawing up an evaluation plan, conducting the Peer Review and writing the Peer Review report. At the end of the Peer Review the hosting VET school or college gets verbal feedback and a written Peer Review report by the peers VET schools and colleges make use of Peer Review in QIBB on a voluntary basis.
Peer Review raises synergies: The hosting organisation gets an external perspective and impulses for quality development from the peers. In parallel the peers themselves get a multitude of interesting suggestions that they can bring home to their own institution as a quality development contribution. In this sense Peer Review could be seen not only as an evaluation instrument but as a measure of teacher professionalization also. Peer Review is more learning from each other and sharing experience than external control.