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Austria: private universities

A comprehensive analysis of the Austrian private university sector was published for the first time in mid-2017. This sector is relatively young in Austria – the first private university was accredited in 2000 – and comparatively small: there are currently only 13 such universities with a total of 10 200 students.

It is a heterogeneous sector, in terms of responsibilities/ providers, funding, orientation, research intensity, and frequently has a small-scale/ narrow structure in terms of available study programmes. Nevertheless, private universities help stimulate, diversify and complement the Austrian higher education sector, as do universities of applied sciences and university colleges of teacher education.

Private universities rely on academic knowledge and research but have a strong vocational focus. Their study programmes are mainly found in the social sciences, economics and medicine. Transition to the labour market is easy and smooth for graduates: the median duration before private university graduates take up their first employment is from zero to three months.

A relatively high number of women study at private universities: around 61% of students at these establishments are female, against 53% at public universities and 48% at universities of applied sciences. Around one third of the students at private universities have a non-Austrian home address (versus 16% at public universities and 11% at universities of applied sciences). Analysed by nationality, private universities boast by far the highest share of students with a non-Austrian nationality among all higher education institutions in Austria at almost 40%. Study preferences differ according to the students’ territorial origin: two thirds of private university students who come from Germany are enrolled in medical programmes; an above-average number of students from other states study music.

The development of the Austrian private university sector needs to be seen against the background of the development of the higher education sector in general. The expansion of higher education, over several years, bears clear traits of a shift from elite higher education towards mass higher education. This trend towards mass academisation, however, has not yet led to adequate expansion or differentiation of the higher education offer. This lack of differentiation is shown in the proportions of research and teaching, in the links to the labour market/professional qualification elements, or in the duration of studies and graduation levels (short cycle/undergraduate/graduate) at the various types of higher education institution. Private universities are still strongly academic/research-oriented, have relatively long study programmes and restrictive entrance regulations, the primary requirement being the matriculation certificate).

More information:

Schmid, K.; Nowak, S., Gruber, B. and Petanovitsch, A. (2017). Privatuniversitäten. Entwicklung und Ausblick [Private universities. Development and outlook], ibw Research Report No. 189, Vienna.
ibw Research Brief No. 98 (Deutsch || English)