Austria has 22 public universities
The 22 public universities (öffentliche Universitäten) vary in size and age: some have centuries of history behind them. They also vary according to their focus in terms of teaching, research and their ‘third mission’. These universities also vary in terms of the range of courses on offer. More than 75% of all degree programme students currently study at one of the 22 public universities. For this and other reasons, it can be considered the core of tertiary education in Austria. Article 81c of the Federal Constitutional Law (B-VG) guarantees each university its autonomy. Universities are distinguished by their teaching and research excellence at the highest level, although their main focus remains on basic research.
Universities as independent legal entities under public law
The Universities Act (UG) entered into force in 2004, establishing a modern legal basis on which the public universities are established as independent legal entities. This means that to date the universities have largely managed themselves, even though they have been financed by the public purse. The Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research (BMBWF) concludes performance agreements with the universities every three years. These include specific targets, for example for examination activity, for student-teacher ratios or in relation to the academic staff (basic research output). The standards set out in Section 12 UG on university funding form the legal basis for this. The law makes a distinction between public universities and private universities, which do not receive their standard budget from the Republic of Austria. In contrast, universities of applied sciences are funded according to the number of student places they offer.
Universities’ statutory objectives
Public universities’ fundamental statutory objectives are described as follows in Section 1 paragraph 1 of the Universities Act (UG): “The mission of the universities is to serve academic research and teaching, and the advancement, appreciation and teaching of the arts, and thereby to contribute to the personal development of the individual, and to the welfare of society and the environment. [...] Through the common efforts of teachers and students, working in an enlightened knowledge society, they assist individuals in their striving for the education and autonomy through science.”
Universities train the next generation of academics
One fundamental characteristic of universities is their dual role: excellence in teaching and excellence in research. Universities train early-career academics who go on to transmit their knowledge to the next generation as professors or tutors, while also undertaking their own research. This also applies to other higher education institutions, but only universities bear the responsibility for training the next generation of academics and undertaking basic research.
Here is an overview of all 22 individual universities in Austria.