Adult Education in Austria

Author: Bianca Friesenbichler, Wilfried Hackl

What is meant in the country when you talk about Adult Education?
In Austria, adult education is an area that is huge, greatly differentiated and constantly changing – perhaps even more so than all other areas of the education sector. Adult education holds an independent position in the Austrian educational system, both quantitatively and qualitatively. It furthermore comprises various actions, such as teaching, supervision of groups, counselling, guidance, education management and library services.
Educational activities referred to as “adult education” or “continuing vocational training” are mainly defined in terms of age and previously received education. If some initial (vocational) education or training has been completed and is followed by another educational phase, one usually speaks of adult education, continuing vocational training, further education etc.

What is typical for Adult Education in the country?
In Austria, adult education and training is less a “system” and more a “field” with many different structures. This field is played on by various government institutions, NGOs and private institutions, with the majority of educational offers being provided by NGOs, institutions run by the social partners and commercial providers. The government and its institutions usually only subsidise adult education rather than provide it. The federal act on the promotion of adult education and public libraries of 1973 (amended in 1990 and 2003) lists the institutions which may receive funds to provide adult education. These institutions, which include libraries, provide public educational offers and have signed “target agreements” with the Austrian federation. This structure is the framework for steering adult education according to a model of governance.

For the past 20 years, one of the main topics of adult education has been professionalisation. While providers of adult education can choose from a vast array of qualification offers, there is no standardised training course for professionals yet. The last years have seen strong efforts to increase professionalisation on an organisational level (e.g. Ö-Cert, a quality certificate for adult education providers; see chapter quality system / insurance) and on a personal level (Weiterbildungsakademie – Austrian Academy of Continuing Education, an institution which acknowledges and certifies competences of adult education professionals; see chapter latest developments / main problems in the discussion).

Another typical feature of the Austrian situation is that the entirety of extra-occupational training at universities and schools is widely not being seen as part of formal adult education (and therefore does not appear in the common statistics).

Legal basis
In 1973, the Austrian parliament passed a federal law on financial support for adult education, libraries and government related institutions (Adult Education Promotion Act). In addition, there are federal laws on vocational matriculation examinations, on access to higher education and on mandatory school-leaving qualifications. Another important legal basis is article 15a of the Federal Constitutional Act, which allows the Austrian federation and the 9 federal provinces to form binding agreements on matters within their respective scope of responsibility (see “Initiative Erwachsenenbildung” under latest developments / main problems in the discussion).

Quantitatively, laws and regulations concerning the job market are very influential. The Labour Market Promotion Act, for example, contains regulations on the (further) education of employees, job seekers, migrant workers and persons with physical disabilities.

Since 2011, Austria pursues a political strategy on life-long learning (LLL:2020), which is directed by a ‘task force’. Several Ministries including the Ministry of Education and Women’s Affairs provide annual evaluation reports to document how far the benchmarks are achieved.

Responsible public bodies / ministries
The ministries responsible for adult education can be categorised as follows:

  1. Federal Ministry of Education and Women’s Affairs (Department of Adult Education): General adult education and schools for employed persons
  2. Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy: University education, on-the-job training
  3. Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection: further education related to the job market
  4. Further ministries involved in further education: Federal Ministry of Health, Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management, Federal Ministry of Finance, Federal Ministry of the Interior and Austrian Foreign Ministry
    Adult education in Austria is also regulated by the provinces and municipalities. The municipalities are responsible for community education or may participate in common-benefit institutions for further education. The provinces take care of the funding of adult education (mostly funding of participants’ fees).

The social partners, too, are public bodies responsible for adult education. They own institutions for further education and are involved in negotiating collective agreements for providers of adult education (professionals/employees and institutions/employers).

Relevant umbrella associations and national (service) organisations
The ten associations of adult education providers as defined by the Adult Education Promotion Act are combined by an umbrella association: KEBÖ (short for “Konferenz der Erwachsenenbildung Österreichs” – conference of adult education in Austria). KEBÖ was founded in 1972 and is a partner of the Federal Ministry of Education and Women’s Affairs in implementing focus points of adult education policy. KEBÖ is made up of the following ten organisations and associations:

  • Working group of Austrian educational centres (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Bildungshäuser Österreich – ARGE BHÖ)
  • Austrian vocational training institute (Berufsförderungsinstitut Österreich – BFI)
  • Association of public libraries in Austria (Büchereiverband Österreichs – BVÖ)
  • Forum for catholic adult education in Austria (Forum Katholischer Erwachsenenbildung in Österreich – FORUM)
  • Rural continuing education institute (Ländliches Fortbildungsinstitut – LFI)
  • Network of Austrian adult education institutes (Ring Österreichischer Bildungswerke – RÖBW)
  • Austrian Economic Society (Volkswirtschaftliche Gesellschaft Österreich – VG-Ö)
  • Association of adult education for Austrian trade unionists (Verband Österreichischer Gewerkschaftlicher Bildung – VÖGB)
  • Association of Austrian Adult Education Centres (Verband Österreichischer Volkshochschulen – VÖV)
  • The Austrian Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Economic Promotion (Wirtschaftsförderungsinstitut der Wirtschaftskammer Österreichs – WIFI)

There are two more associations which are mentioned in the Promotion Act but are not part of KEBÖ:

  • Austrian Federation of Europe Houses (Österreichische Föderation der Europahäuser – ÖFEH)
  • Association of the scientific societies of Austria (Verband der wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaften Österreichs – VWGÖ)

A great number of NGOs and other non-governmental providers of adult education are not listed in the Promotion Act of 1973 and may therefore not benefit from basic financial support. However, demands as to their inclusion are increasingly made. As part of the Ö-Cert certification (a quality seal for adult education organisations), an up-to-date registry of adult education providers is being created (”Verzeichnis der Ö-Cert Qualitätsanbieter“). This list of certified providers contains many non-governmental providers, associations and NGOs. Ö-Cert has thus sparked a debate whether the Promotion Act has become obsolete.

The Public Employment Service Austria (Arbeitsmarktservice – AMS) facilitates adult education for the purpose of re-integration into the labour market. The measures include further education, retraining and expansion of skills for jobless or job-seeking persons, women, youth, people with a migration background and people with disabilities. The budgets the AMS administers for these purposes are substantially higher than those provided for adult education in other surroundings. For this reason, the AMS is among the most influential service organisations for adult education.

Some relevant interest lobbies for adult education institutions and professionals are:

  • Association of employers from private educational institutions (Berufsvereinigung der Arbeitgeber privater Bildungseinrichtungen – BABE)
  • Interest group work@education of the Union of Private Sector Employees, Graphical Workers and Journalists (Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten, Druck, Journalismus, Papier)
  • Association of adult education providers in Austria (Verband der Erwachsenenbildungsträger Österreichs – VEBÖ)
  • Platform for job-related adult education (Plattform für berufsbezogene Erwachsenenbildung – PbEB)
  • For a list of further lobbies visit this page (in German).

In addition, there are two associations for researchers, teachers and developers, one in the Austrian Association of Research and Development in Education (Österreichische Gesellschaft für Forschung und Entwicklung im Bildungswesen – ÖFEB), in the department vocational and continuing education, and one in the Austrian Network for Research and Development in Adult and Further Education.

Providers of Adult Education
Austria boasts a vast and variegated landscape of adult education providers. Although there is no valid statistical data available, it is estimated that there are several thousand providers.The Ö-Cert website lists 1.107 providers (349 providers with 758 local branches) who have received the Ö-Cert quality seal (as of 30th June 2015, List of Quality Providers).
These providers may be grouped as follows:

  • NGOs (grassroots organisations and associations supported by public bodies)
  • Institutions run by the social partners (the Chambers of Commerce, Labour and Agriculture and the trade unions)
  • Institutions run by religious organisations
  • Public and private libraries
  • Institutions run by local authorities and municipalities (such as evening schools, the Federal Institute for Adult Education (Bundesinstitut für Erwachsenenbildung – bifeb) and some community colleges)
  • Commercial providers (companies and individuals/trainers)
  • Companies which provide in-house trainings
  • Institutions run by the political parties
  • Institutions founded by the Labour Market Board (AMS)

Continuing education is financed by companies, from public budgets (including labour market funds) and by the learners themselves, with companies constituting the major part. As there is no financial monitoring on a yearly basis we have to go back to numbers from recent years.

  Further education spendings
(Million Euro, price level of 2009)
companies public private
Euros  1,341 m 547 m 930 m
in %  47,6 % 19,4 % 33 %
(ministries, provinces, municipalities)
Labour Market Service qualification
(excluding youth)
Euros  187 m 360 m


In 2009, the federal government spent 23.5 m Euros (including ESF subsidies) explicitly on adult education, while the entire budget for education was 15.7 billion Euros. In other words, only 0.15 % of the entire budget for education were spent on adult education.

Between 2015 and 2017, the federal government and the provinces are investing 54 m Euros in the joint initiative for the promotion of basic formal degrees for adults (short: “Initiative Erwachsenenbildung – IEB“). According to the IEB Office an additional 21 m Euros are provided here for by the European Social Fund (ESF).

Beside national subsidies there are EU subsidies, which are used for adult education projects. Most of these come from ESF and Erasmus+ (the latter makes up for 28,7 m Euros in 2014, including all different kinds of education, almost 1 m of which being dedicated for Adult Education).

One instrument of subsidy which has gained in importance since the onset of the economic crisis in 2008 is paid educational leave. It can last up to one year and is paid from labour market funds. In July 2013, another two instruments were launched: a part-time work programme for educational purposes and scholarships for skilled workers.

Although between 2008 and 2014 the funding for qualification had consequently been increased, less and less women and men are finding a job. Due to this inefficient qualification, we are by 2015 seeing a major cut in the financing of Adult Learning through the Labour Market Service. By july 2015 no precise numbers were available on this.

Participation rate
The Adult Education Survey (AES) of 2012 contains the following participation rates for 18- to 64-year olds in Austria:
• Formal further education: 5.9%
• Non-formal further education: 45.5%
Absolute figures can be obtained from AMS (Public Employment Service) and KEBÖ (total population of 8.4 m):

Persons in courses provided by the AMS
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
245,782 249,571 292,493 288,685 259,612 285,084 313,265 301.147


Participation in courses provided by KEBÖ organizations
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
2,764,903 2,843,062 2,905,888 3,113,424 2,999,050 3,065,456 3,118,127 tba

(Notice regarding KEBÖ: persons attending more than one course are counted multiply. For 2011 numbers are not valid because of incomplete data delivery).

The federal act on the promotion of adult education and public libraries of 1973 (amended in 1990 and 2003) defines the criteria for receiving subsidies. These are still valid to describe the framework of adult education with regard to content and its subsidies:

  • Political, social and economic education
  • Job-related further education
  • Scientific education, spreading scientific knowledge and insights
  • Education as a means of dealing with life’s challenges
  • Moral and religious education
  • Musical education
  • Re-starting, continuing and expanding school education
  • Managing public libraries
  • (Further) training of adult education professionals and librarians in public libraries
  • Education information, counselling and marketing
  • Creating and maintaining scientific institutes and performing scientific research in the field of adult education and public libraries

There are no complete and consistent data on staff available. The following figures stand unconnected:

In 2013, there were 90,293 professionals working in KEBÖ institutions (according to KEBÖ statistics), of which

  • 5,969 full-time
  • 57,446 part-time
  • 26,878 voluntary

In contrast, the 2011 Census of Employment and Labour Force Survey performed by Statistik Austria contains only 44,896 people in the category “education and instruction – other education”, basically meaning the non-formal sector.

Adult education in Austria is generally open to career changers with non-pedagogical backgrounds, although public funded programmes nowadays have a set of criteria for trainers and lecturers. Because of the extremely varied scope and the lack of relevant (pedagogical/andragogical) training, professionalisation was low for a long period of time. This has been recently addressed by the Austrian Academy of Continuing Education (Weiterbildungsakademie Österreich – wba, see latest developments / main problems in the discussion). The measures taken by the wba have sparked interest across Europe. As of 8th July 2015, 877 people have earned a wba certificate (1st degree) and 221 people have completed a diploma (2nd degree).

Quality system / insurance
On 1st December 2011, the national quality framework for adult education, Ö-Cert, began its work as a nationwide model for the recognition of quality assurance measures in educational institutions. Such an initiative had become necessary because of the huge variety of providers and the confusing amount of established quality management systems in this area. The objective was to create transparency for both learners and sponsors. Also, with Ö-Cert providers no longer need multiple certifications when working across province borders.

As mentioned above, Ö-Cert has dynamized the discussion whether the Promotion Act (more precisely the list which providers may obtain subsidies) has become obsolete (see legal basis).
Latest developments / main problems in the discussion
The community’s discourse is significantly shaped by the developments in Austrian and European education and social politics. Some of the main topics of discussion are:
Lifelong learning

  • Professionalization
  • Quality assurance
  • European and national qualification frameworks
  • Governance

With focus on the learners, the topics are:

  • (Basic) skills and competences (PIAAC 2013)
  • Reaching target groups
  • Diversity
  • New didactic models
  • Needs-based education planning
  • Lowering access barriers, e.g. through guidance
  • Permeability of the education system, validation of competences

Important developments of the last years were:

  • “Initiative Erwachsenenbildung“: A joint initiative of the federation and the provinces for the promotion of basic formal degrees for adults, which enables youths and adults to resume their education for free
  • Academy of Further Education (wba): Checks, recognises and certifies competences of adult education professionals according to defined standards.
  • Ö-Cert: A quality framework for institutions (see quality system / insurance)
  • National strategy on lifelong learning “LLL:2020“ (see legal basis)

Relevant links
Portal on adult education and learning in Austria
Europedia / Eurydice report on adult education in Austria and
Statistik Austria: Adult education, further training, lifelong learning
Federal Ministry of Education and Women’s Affairs (BMBF):