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Uni Reform 2021 in Austria: What you need to know

26. February 2021, INFO, NEWS

The ongoing discussions about university reform in Austria have come to an end. With the concrete proposal for a comprehensive reform of the University and Higher Education Act, students in Austria can expect numerous changes. These include the introduction of minimum performance requirements, stricter regulations for deadlines, as well as examinations in the ‘Study Entry and Orientation Phase’ (STEOP), or changes to organizational and personnel law at universities. This sounds extensive, and it is. In order to give you an idea on what these amendments really mean, we’ve summarized the answers to your most important questions here.

What is the new minimum performance requirement for students all about?

This amendment requires future students to show that they are ‘doing the work’, by ensuring that at least 24 ECTS points have been collected within the first four semesters of enrollment. Considering that a whole bachelor’s degree is worth 180 ECTS points, this is probably nothing that you need to panic about.

Does the minimum performance requirement apply to all degree programs in Austria?

The minimum performance requirement is intended for bachelor and diploma degree programs at universities and colleges of education that begin in the winter semester of 2021/22. By the way, this rule applies to each degree program taken, which means that a double degree program is no exception! If you began studying before this time or are currently enrolled in a masters or doctors’ program, this does not apply to you!

What consequences can be expected from the universities if the minimum performance has not been achieved?

You don’t just get exmatriculated out of the blue and Universities are required to provide sufficient warning and appropriate assistance before this happens. However, if you fail to reach the minimum of 24 ECTS credits in the first two years of your studies, you may be barred from studying for up to a total of ten years! Make sure you are on top form if you don’t want to risk losing your place!

What are the changes to the STEOP for first-year students?

Not only are there minimum performance requirements now, the so called STEOP ‘cool-off phase’ is also being discontinued. In comparison to before, students will be automatically exmatriculated, if they fail their final retakes of the STEOP examinations, rather than being allowed to reapply again after a one year waiting period.

What else is changing on the subject of exams at Austrian universities?

An amendment stipulates that important dates related to courses and exams will be fixed at the beginning of each semester, to ensure that students can better plan their schedules. However, instead of having the 3 standard exam dates for courses available every semester (beginning, middle & end), students will only have 2. Additionally, Corona transitional regulations for online exams have also been added to the Higher Education Act, which standardizes the procedure through law. It covers areas such as verifying proof of identity or what should happen if there are technical issues, for instance.

What do I have to consider regarding the enrollment period?

First thing is first, grab a pen and immediately start noting down all the important dates (including enrollment) for your course of study. As a result of the reform, the deadlines for admission and the continuation of studies have changed. For the winter semester, the absolute deadline is the 31st October. For the summer semester, the new deadline is the 31st of March. The usual grace periods which existed after those deadlines are history. Don’t forget though, these deadlines only apply to bachelor or diploma degree programs.

What are combined master's and doctoral studies?

In the future, students may have the opportunity to combine a masters and doctoral program, which can be completed within five years. For research enthusiasts and students with career plans at the university, this will provide clear prospects and the guarantee of a doctoral position as early as the start of the master’s program.

What changes in terms of leave of absence for students in Austria?

Sometimes, things just don’t work out the way you planned and students are certainly not immune to this. A new stipulation now enables students to take a leave of absence without reason and therefore, no longer only in the case of illness or pregnancy. Do take note that this applies to any semester but the first.

When will the amendment to the UG come into effect?

The changes are planned to take affect from the winter semester 2021/22 onwards, despite the fact that many universities are currently busy trying to face the challenges of online teaching.

What initiative is behind "Bildung brennt"?

It is true that positive changes can be expected in the course of the reform – including the advancement of women, gender equality and a sensible allocation of ECTS points, which from now on must correspond to the actual amount of work. Nevertheless, many voices are extremely critical of the UG amendment. This has to do, in particular, with the introduction of the minimum performance requirement and the cuts with regard to student co-determination. According to some, the minimum performance requirement discriminates against students who are already subject to extraordinary demands. In addition, the reform restricts students’ right of co-determination via the senate. You may have noticed several demonstrations, protest movements of local student bodies or petitions against this.

If you would like to delve deeper into the topic of education law and learn more about the University Act, you can find a summary of the general rights and obligations of students in a separate article.