The "General School Regulations" decreed by Empress Maria Theresa in 1774 laid the cornerstone for Austria's education system. By the nineteenth century the three areas of education - general schools, vocational schools and teacher training colleges - had reached an advanced stage of development. Eight-year compulsory education was introduced in 1869.
In modern-day Austria compulsory schooling lasts nine years. The four-year elementary school (ages 6 to 10) is followed by secondary education (in either a "Hauptschule" or the lower classes of an "allgemein bildende höhere Schule"). Pupils who leave school at fourteen and do not intend to pursue further school education can enrol at a Polytechnical Course which prepares them for working life. Apprentices are required to attend a vocational school.
The upper segment of secondary education is covered by a range of school types: "allgemein bildende höhere Schulen" providing a general education with the emphasis either on the arts or on sciences but also vocational schools at various levels. A school-leaving certificate acquired at one of the above school types entitles the holder to enrol at university.
Austria's school system is governed by uniform regulations nationwide. No fees are charged for attendance at state-run schools. School text books and travel to and from school are largely free of charge. The education policy currently being implemented is seeking to give schools a wider degree of autonomy. This entails upgrading the responsibilities of the school bodies made up of teachers, pupils and parents in all school types. Since the 1994/95 winter term, study courses have been available at specialised colleges. Graduates receives academic degrees.
Over and above the 4th outline programme, Austria participates in the EU educational and mobility programmes SOCRATES and LEONARDO and in the TEMPUS promotion programme for Eastern Europe.
In the 1997/98 academic year there were about 1,200,000 pupils in Austria, in 54,300 school classes.