Are you looking for free education abroad? Germany and Austria offer an excellent level of education at almost no additional cost. Both are German-speaking and have a robust economy, high quality of life, and nearly perfect infrastructure. However, the structure of education and universities in these countries have significant differences.
This article explains the main differences between German and Austrian universities that you should know before choosing a country to study abroad.
Germany is one of the most popular destinations for international students. The number of international students in 2018 was 374,580. Besides, the German economy is one of the strongest in the world; thus, many students decide to work there upon completing their degree.
In fact, Germany is home to many world-renowned companies, giving students opportunities to gain work experience through internships. Besides, they also get decently paid.
Studying in Austria is attractive not only because of its Central European location and the kindness of Austrians towards foreigners. You will also see pretty uncomplicated admission and enrolment to universities.
Besides, Austria offers top-quality education, which is recognizable worldwide. All this makes studying in Austria attractive. As a result, the number of international students in 2018 was 102,000.
Also, because of its rich cultural past and present, education in Austria is appreciated by people all over the world.
Furthermore, Austria has a great social security system and economic stability, plus Austrians are some of the most hospitable folks in Europe.
Higher education in Germany vs Austria
Currently, 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 for teaching and education
120 of these high educational institutions are private universities.
Currently, Austria has 74 state-accredited universities:
- 22 public universities
- 16 private universities
- 21 Universities of Applied Sciences
- 15 colleges for teaching and education
1. Numerus Clausus
Numerus clausus (NC) stands for “closed number” in Latin – it’s a restriction on admission imposed by some universities in Germany. It happens when a faculty receives more applicants than available places.
It’s also one of the major reasons why German students often prefer to study in Austria. Austrian universities don’t have NC. Especially for majors like medicine and law studies, the competition is severe in Germany.
Numerus Clausus is practiced by most universities, particularly in majors like Medicine, Law, Business, Communication Science, Psychology, and much more.
For example, at the University of Salzburg, about 50% of Communication Science students are German. The situation in Psychology is even more serious: about 70% of the approximately 225 bachelor’s study places go to students from Germany.
If a course has an NC, that means that not all applicants get a place because there are too many candidates.
All applicants are filtered by ABI-Schnitt (average of high school graduation); the better your average is, the greater the chance you will get a place.
NC is redefined every semester. The more applicants for this major, the stricter the NC. If your grades aren’t high enough, you will need to wait till next semester or sometimes even years; for medicine, it’s usually the case.
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 and 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. Generally, each student must pay only a semester fee between 85 EUR and 290 EUR per semester.
Private universities are 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 pay 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. Universities of Applied Sciences can decide individually 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 must pay double tuition fees – 726.72 EUR per semester or sometimes more; it’s up to the 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 their chosen profession.
BAföG – state funding for students 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 their spouse or parents.
Maximum payment is 752 EUR for students under 25 years old, 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. Overall, 18 % of all students in Germany received BAföG in the summer semester of 2016. Students will need to pay back only 50% of the money they have received.
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 receive this.
With some exceptions for students from EU/EEA, however, rules are pretty strange: if they are 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 also have an entitlement to support.
5. Entry requirements
As a non-native speaker, you must prove proficiency in German: which is necessary and should also be included in the application documents. As well as to have equal to a 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.
International applicants’ regulations to enter the university in Austria and Germany depend on your country of origin. At least, this was in my case. Even though I believe you can be approved in Austria more quickly than in Germany.
You can prove your German 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 must have a diploma equal to Abitur in Germany. Abitur means 12 or 13 years of school (depending on the state).
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 a B2 level. For level C1 certificates of all these tests will fit 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
You must have a diploma equal to Matura in Austria to enter university. 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 grade of five or six in several subjects may have to repeat a year, but this is rare. Given below are the marks in the German grading system.
- 1.0 – Excellent
- 2.0 – Very good
- 3.0 – Good
- 4.0 – Adequate
- 5.0 – Sufficient
- 6.0 – Insufficient
Note that some universities use 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 must 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 a simple 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 and published annually since 2004. It’s the world’s most-viewed global university rankings. The methodology of this test and many others are based on the following:
- 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 at position 61 in the world ranking. There are 17 German universities that rank among the top 250 universities in the world.
QS World University Ranking shows other results: the first German university placed at 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 in position 18,422. That’s not a very good result, to be honest.
However, this international ranking is not very adequate. 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 of where to study; instead, we must do our own research.
8. Academic year
- Academic year: October – February.
- Winter semester: October – 31 March; Summer semester: April – July
Students in German universities have to write a thesis, take exams and do internships, and lab courses during their semester holidays.
- Academic year: October – June.
- Winter semester: October – 30 January; Summer semester: March – 30 June
In Austria, studies start earlier than in Germany: the semester usually begins on 1 October, while in Germany, it’s typically on 14 October and lasts until the end of January.
February is entirely 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 the Easter holidays.
Austrian students enjoy their free time during semester breaks, and hardworking German students write their exams during that time.
In Germany, many very big-sized colleges are sometimes overcrowded with students; it’s not rare to sit on the floor in the lecture room.
The campus could be spread in different parts of the city, so you will need to travel in order to change classes. This can add stress 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 few 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 seem to be made more for students and their comfort since there is an organization called ÖH (Austrian Students Association) in Vienna that is always working on improving the quality of facilities and student satisfaction.
Students noticed that the atmosphere in Austrian campuses feels more relaxed, which might be because universities, as a 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 points are based on my personal opinion, but some are facts that you need to know before deciding which country to pick.