The Austrian educational system has its roots in the medieval monastic schools that flourished toward the end of the 11th century. The present state education system goes back to the school reforms introduced by Maria Theresa in 1774. In 1869, the Imperial Education Law unified the entire system of compulsory education.
In 1962, Austria's education system was completely reorganized under a comprehensive education law, and compulsory education was extended from eight to nine years. Since 1975, all schools are coeducational and education at state schools is free of charge. Financial support is provided for postsecondary schooling. Primary education lasts for four years. Disabled students either attend special schools or are mainstreamed into regular classrooms. After primary education, pupils may either attend a general secondary school ( Hauptschule ) or an academic secondary school, which covers two four-year courses of study.
Students may also attend an intermediate or higher vocational school for a period of five years. Those who complete their studies at secondary or higher vocational school are qualified to attend the universities. At the primary level in 1997, 381,927 pupils and 31,251 teachers were registered with 3,703 schools. Student-to-teacher ratio stood at 12 to 1. At the secondary level in the same year, there were 79,806 teachers and 793,485 pupils enrolled.
Austria maintains a vigorous adult education system. Almost all adult education bodies owe their existence to private initiative. The Ministry of Education, under the auspices of the Development Planning for a Cooperative System of Adult Education in Austria, has joined private bodies in setting up projects for enhancing the quality of adult education programs. As of 2002, the adult literacy rate was estimated at 98%.
There are 12 university-level institutions and six fine-art colleges offering 430 subjects and about 600 possible degrees.
In 1997, there were 240,632 students enrolled full time in universities and all higher-level institutions. The teaching staff numbered 26,356. As of 1999, public expenditure on education was estimated at 6.3% of GDP.