Austria falls behind on education mobility

Austria’s vocational educational system has been rated highly in a new report comparing education in OECD countries but falls behind when it comes to education mobility, with only 21 percent of Austrians achieving a higher level of education than their parents.

Austria falls behind on education mobility
Austria lags behind other OECD countries in the number of university graduates it produces. Photo: University of Vienna

Austria achieved a mid-table result in the latest OECD ‘Education at a Glance 2015’ report on post-secondary education, with 30 percent of working age people completing some form of higher education, compared to an OECD average of 33 percent.

Together with Germany and Iceland, Austria has the best employment opportunities for recent secondary school graduates, due to its vocational educational system.

Under that system, 15-year-old students who are not interested in or do not qualify for university can enter apprenticeships or vocational training, and split their time between working and learning on-the-job skills while studying.

In 2013, 81 percent of graduates who were not enrolled in further education were able to find a job in the year following their graduation, well above the OECD average of 61 percent.

However, Austria lags behind other industrialised countries in the number of university graduates it produces – about 20 percent of university graduates versus the 30 percent average in the OECD.

Austria spent €4.5bn in 2013 on tertiary education, yet literacy skills remain poor compared with other industrialised countries.

Education reformers want Austria to offer two years of kindergarten before pupils enter formal education, to improve language skills. By the time they have finished primary school, many children still do not speak German well enough to read it.

Compulsory education starts at the age of six, and students are separated at the age of ten into one of three school types.

Students considered to be the most academically-able go to a gymnasium, and are expected to attend university afterwards. The majority attend middle school and move on to trade college. The bottom nine percent attend high schools, and tend to end up in low-skilled, low-paid jobs.

Statistics show that young adults with immigrant backgrounds are more likely to attend high school and more likely to be unemployed after leaving school.

In general, adults with higher qualifications have better employment opportunities and earnings increase as an adult’s level of education and skills increase.

The report also noted that there is a lack of new, young talent entering the teaching profession, despite teachers' salaries ranked as “very high” compared to other OECD countries.




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Austrian MPs give green light to headscarf ban in primary schools

Austrian MPs on Wednesday approved a law aimed at banning the headscarf in primary schools, a measure proposed by the ruling right-wing government.

Austrian MPs give green light to headscarf ban in primary schools
Illustration Photo: AFP

So as to avoid charges that the law discriminates against Muslims, the text refers to any “ideologically or religiously influenced clothing which is associated with the covering of the head”.

However, representatives of both parts of the governing coalition, the centre-right People's Party (OeVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), have made it clear that the law is targeted at the Islamic headscarf.

FPOe education spokesman Wendelin Moelzer said the law was “a signal against political Islam” while OeVP MP Rudolf Taschner said the measure was necessary to free girls from “subjugation”.

The government says the patka head covering worn by Sikh boys or the Jewish kippa would not be affected.

Austria's official Muslim community organisation IGGOe has previously condemned the proposals as “shameless” and a “diversionary tactic”.

The IGGOe says that in any case only a “miniscule number” of girls would be affected.

Opposition MPs almost all voted against the measure, with some accusing the government of focusing on garnering positive headlines rather than child welfare.

The government admits that the law is likely to be challenged at Austria's constitutional court, either on grounds of religious discrimination or because similar legislation affecting schools is normally passed with a two-thirds majority of MPs.

The OeVP and FPOe formed a coalition in late 2017 after elections in which both parties took a tough anti-immigration stance and warned of the dangers of so-called “parallel societies”.