You are looking for free education abroad? Whatever is a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree Germany and Austria are smart choices. They are both german-speaking, having a strong economy, high quality of life, and infrastructure. However, their universities aren’t the same, therefore, in this article, we are gonna discuss differences between German and Austrian universities.
Germany is one of the most popular destinations for international students. The number of foreign students in 2018 was 374,580. It has one of the strongest economies in the world.
In fact, many multinational companies are located in the country, giving students the opportunity to gain work experience through internship programs, many of which are paid.
Studying in Austria is attractive not only because of the central location and openness of people towards foreign students. Low barriers to admission to university studies and uncomplicated enrollment inspire foreign students more and more.
Besides, there is the high quality of the studies and degrees recognizable worldwide. All this makes studying in Austria attractive. As a result, the number of foreign students in 2018 was 102,000.
Maybe also because of its rich cultural past and present, education in Austria is appreciated by people all over the world. The varied landscape is of great importance for tourism, there are many skiing resorts, and in the summer there are lots of opportunities to spend free time in nature.
Additionally, education in Austria has a long tradition of higher education with the importance of research that has gained a high reputation internationally.
Furthermore, Austria has great social security, economic stability, and Austrians are very hospitable. All right, enough with compliments, let’s see more into the topic of the discussion.
Higher education in these countries looks pretty much the same, for an outsider point of view. But as a person who lived in both countries, studied in Austria, and tried my best to enter university in Germany, I can tell you, there are significant differences between German and Austrian universities. That can influence your decision-making on which place to pick.
Higher education overview Germany vs Austria
At the moment there are 426 state-accredited universities in Germany:
- 106 state Universities
- 216 Universities of Applied Sciences
- 52 art colleges
- 16 theological colleges
- 30 administrative colleges
- 6 Colleges Of Education
120 of all these high educational institutions are private Universities.
At the moment there are 74 state-accredited universities in Austria:
- 22 public Universities
- 16 private Universities
- 21 Universities of Applied Sciences
- 15 Colleges Of Education
1. Numerus Clausus
First, what comes into my mind and also a big one. Numerus clausus (NC) Latin for “closed number” – is a restriction on admission because there are more applicants than available places.
Often it is a reason why big numbers of Germans apply to Austrian universities. Especially for majors like medicine and law studies, many German school graduates coming to the neighbor state.
Numerus Clausus is practiced by most universities, in specific majors like Medicine, Law, Business, Communication Science, Psychology and much more.
For example in the University of Salzburg, about 50 percent of Communication Science students are German. The situation in Psychology is even more serious: about 70 percent of the approximately 225 Bachelor’s study places go to students from Germany.
This could become a problem in Austria in the long term as most of them went back to Germany after completing their studies. That means graduate students do not add value to Austria.
A solution approach could be a sort of quota regulation, as it already exists in Medical studies. This would ensure that a certain percentage of university places had to go to Austrians and foreigners from other countries.
Anytime a course of study has an NC, this means that not all applicants get a place, because there are simply too many applicants.
All applicants will be filtered by ABI-Schnitt (average of high school graduation), the better your average is, the greater the chance that you will get a place.
NC is redefined every semester. The more applicants on this major, the stricter the NC. If your grades are not high enough you will need to wait till next semester or sometimes even years, for medicine studies it is normally the case. People will be even restricted of application till their waiting time is over.
2. Education center
In Germany education is primarily a responsibility of the states and the educational system may vary from state to state.
In Austria, the education system is more centralized, with the federal government in Vienna carrying the major responsibility for curriculum and the funding of educational institutions.
3. Cost of studies
There are no tuition fees for EU/EEA as well as for Non-EU/EAA citizens at German public universities and universities of applied science.
However, one state in Germany charges international students 1.500 EUR per semester, called Baden-Württemberg. In general, each student must pay only a semester fee between 85 EUR and 290 EUR per semester.
Private universities free to decide which fees to charge. Many private universities in Germany cost over 20,000 EUR for tuition each year.
In Austria education in public universities is free for students from EU/EEA, you only need to pay the ÖH contribution of 20,20 EUR every semester. Non-EU/EEA must pay the tuition fee of 727.72 EUR per Semester.
Studying at Universities of Applied Science and private universities in Austria can be much more expensive than at state universities. Without exception, all privately run institutions fees for each semester.
They start at the current minimum of 363.36 EUR and can range up to hundreds and even more than a thousand euros per Semester.
It is up to universities of Applied Sciences whether they charge tuition fees or not. In Austria, almost all universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen) charge tuition fees of 363.36 EUR per semester for domestic students, students from the EU/EEA area as well as recognized refugees and people, who have been living in Austria for 5 years.
Students from Non-EU/EAA countries have to pay double tuition fees – 726.72 EUR per semester or sometimes more, it is up to university.
However, there are some exceptions: FH Joanneum, FH Burgenland, BMLV, and FH Vorarlberg do not charge any tuition fees.
4. Financial support
Although there are no tuition fees or very low fees for the universities in Germany and Austria, many students need financial assistance for materials and living expenses.
In Germany, under the so-called BAFöG program, students can apply for financial support, half of which is a grant and half a loan that must be paid back when the student is working in his or her chosen profession.
BAföG – state funding for students, who enrolled in degree courses at a German university are entitled to receive a monthly stipend of up to 670 EUR a month.
The exact amount depends on various factors including the housing and health insurance situation, as well as the income, savings, and assets of the applicant and those of his/her spouse or parents.
Maximum payment is 752 EUR for students under 25, 861 EUR for students under 30 and to 941 EUR for students over 30.
50% of the Bafög is awarded as a scholarship and the rest as an interest-free loan.
The duration of financial assistance is based on the standard period of study for the chosen discipline. In total students will need to pay back only 50% of all the money he/she has received. Overall 18 % of all students in Germany received BAföG in the summer semester 2016.
In Austria, obtaining BAföG is possible but only for German students. Another option is Studienbeihilfe (financial support for students), unfortunately, only Austrian citizens are eligible to obtain this.
With some exceptions for students from EU/EEA, however, rules are quite weird: if she/he a “migrant worker” or their parent a “migrant worker”, or if there has already been sufficient “Integration into the Austrian education or social system” before the start of your studies. In these cases, EU/EEA citizens are also having entitlement for support.
5. Entry requirements
As a non-native speaker you will need to prove proficiency in German: is necessary and should also be included in the application documents. As well as to have equal to German or Austrian school graduation certificate.
For example, my 11 years of school and 2 years of university in Russia are equal to matura in Austria but NOT equal to abitur in Germany.
For international applicants regulation to enter university in both Austria and Germany very depend on your country of origin. Even though I believe in Austria you can be approved easier than in Germany. At least this was in my case.
You can prove your German language proficiency by taking a language test, such as the TestDaF or DSH.
There are no entrance exams in Germany.
School graduation certificate
To enter university you need to have a diploma equal to Abitur in Germany. Abitur means 12 or 13 years of school (depending on the state).
In Germany, they have this strange thing like abitur for a specific subject area. With this graduation type you can only enter universities major with your specialization, for example, natural sciences.
They accredited my school documents as it has engineering specialization and me only able to apply for these majors, which was no way for me.
At some universities, you need proficiency in German corresponding to level B2, at others, a corresponding level of C1. My university in Austria asked for B2 level. For level C1 certificates of all these tests will fits into Austrian requirements:
- Österreichisches Sprachdiplom Deutsch (ÖSD) (Austrian Language Certificate for German)
- Goethe Certificate
- Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang (DSH)
- Deutsche Sprachprüfung der Kulturministerkonferenz (DSD)
- Certificate of a University Preparation Programme (Vorstudienlehrgang) at an Austrian University
In Austrian universities, some programs need students to complete an entrance examination, for example, Medical Universities, Universities of the Arts and UAS (University Applied Science) degree programs.
You need to obtain information early on about application deadlines, special requirements, and dates for the entrance examinations.
The closing date for applications for entrance examinations can be up to 6 months before the beginning of the semester.
School graduation certificate
To enter university you need to have diploma equal to Matura in Austria. The Matura is taken either in the 12th grade at General secondary schools (AHS), or in the 13th grade, at professional secondary schools (BHS).
6. Grading system
The grading scale runs from one (the best mark) to six. Students receiving a poor mark of five or six in several subjects may have to repeat a year, but this is rare. Given below are marks in the German grading system.
- 1.0 – Excellent
- 2.0 – Overall very good
- 3.0 – Good
- 4.0 – Adequate
- 5.0 – Sufficient
- 6.0 – Insufficient
Note that some universities are using a 5 point grading scale to mark their students’ academic achievement. If that is the case with your chosen university in Germany, here’s what every grade means:
- 1 to 1.5 – Very good.
You have completed a major part of your exam, but there are some minor areas you must improve.
- 1.6 to 2.5 – Good.
You have shown decent academic performance by correctly completing a considerable proportion of your exam.
- 2.6 to 3.5 – Satisfactory.
Your performance was a bit more than sufficient and you need to work in several areas.
- 3.6 to 4.0 – Sufficient.
You have reached the minimum score to pass the exam, but your performance leaves much to desire.
- 4.1 to 5 – Fail.
Your performance lies behind the minimum score.
Universities in Austria apply easy a 1 to 5 point grading system:
- 1 – Excellent
- 2 – Good
- 3 – Satisfactory
- 4 – Sufficient and
- 5 – Not enough, means that you have failed
The QS World University Rankings are a ranking of the world’s top universities produced by Quacquarelli Symonds published annually since 2004. It is the world’s most-viewed global university rankings. The methodology of this test and many others based on:
- Academic reputation
- Graduation rates
- Research citations and papers published
- The internationality of employees, and students
- Employer reputation
- Student to faculty ratio
- Industry income
- Award winners
- Funding offered to students
Seventeen German universities rank among the top 250 universities in the world. First German university we can see on position 61 in the world ranking, there are seventeen German universities rank among the top 250 universities in the world.
QS World University Ranking showing other results: first German university has place 45, with 8 appearing in the top 150 and a further 10 in the top 300 (2019).
The University of Vienna is the highest-ranked Austrian university, at 154th in the world in the QS World University Rankings, followed by the next position of 192, ending list on the position 18,422. That’s not very good results, to be honest.
However, this international ranking is not very adequate for my opinion. In most cases, college ranking results aren’t a big surprise, with American and British universities taking the top spots, with only little changes from one year to another.
We should not look at them as an indicator for where to study, much more you need to do your own research.
8. Academic year
Academic year: October – February.
Winter semester: October – March 31st; Summer semester: April – July
Students in German universities have to write a thesis, take exams, do internships, lab courses during their semester holidays.
Academic year: October – June.
Winter semester: October – January 30th; Summer semester: March – June 30th
In Austria studies start earlier than in Germany: the semester usually starts on 1 October, when in Germany it is typically October 14th and lasts until the end of January.
February is completely free for students and professors. The summer semester starts on 1 March and finishes at the end of June. It is interrupted by three weeks of Easter holidays.
Austrian students enjoy free time in semester breaks and hardworking German students write their exams in that time.
In Germany, there are many very big sized colleges sometimes overcrowded with students, it is not rare to sit on the floor in the lecture room.
The campus could be spread in a different part of the city, so you will need to travel in order to change class. This can add stress to and inconvenience to your time there. I have experienced that you need to calculate more time for everything there.
Moreover, many public universities don’t have 24/7 facilities, very little spaces for group work and practically not enough computers. Rooms in Germany are not well-equipped.
The only workspace open on Sundays is the library, which is not enough to serve the whole university. Some facilities could be not well organized or be missed.
Overall Universities in Austria seems to be made more for students and for their comfort. Since there is organization ÖH (Austrian Students Association) in Vienna, that always working on improving the quality of facilities and student satisfaction.
Students noticed that the atmosphere in Austrian campuses feels more relaxed, might be because universities as rule have smaller sizes and fewer students, it tends to be more personal and friendlier than in Germany.
Probably there is nothing better or worse between German and Austrian universities. Some credits are based on my personal opinion, but more just facts which you need to know before to decide which country to pick.