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PhD Study in Austria - A Guide for 2019

Situated at the heart of Europe, Austria has a proud history of cultural and scientific achievement ranging from classical opera to automotive engineering. It's also a vibrant hub for modern PhD research, with a focus on innovative and interdisciplinary doctoral programmes.

This page covers everything you need to know about PhD study in Austria, including an overview of the country's historic university system as well as an explanation of how Austrian PhD programmes work, how much they cost and what you'll need to do to successfully apply to one.

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PhD opportunities in Austria - what's on offer for 2019?

The Austrian higher education system - and its achievements - stretch back over 600 years, during which time the country has hosted some of Europe's most famous artists and thinkers, from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to Sigmund Freud.*

Today Austria's universities are highly progressive institutions that value their PhD researchers and welcome international students. Here are a few reasons why Austria could be the ideal place to begin your doctorate this year:

  • Quality and diversity - Austria's oldest universities are well-ranked, but the country also offers a range of more specialist institutions focussing on professional, technical and medical research.
  • (Almost) no fees - EU and EEA students pay no PhD fees at public universities in Austria, provided they complete their programmes on time.
  • Be more than just a student - Some Austrian PhD programmes take students on as university staff members, offering teaching opportunities, salary and other benefits.
  • Post-study work opportunities - Austria recently extended the amount of time non-EU/EEA citizens can remain to seek work after a PhD, from six months to twelve.

Needless to say, there's also plenty to see and do during a PhD in Austria, with opportunities to live (and study) in beautiful ctities such as Vienna, Graz and Innsbruck. Austria goes the extra mile though (or, at least, gives you the opportunity to) as its eight land borders provide easy opportunities to visit neighbouring countries including Germany, Italy and Switzerland.

Austria can also claim the world's most famous actor-bodybuilder-politican: Arnold Schwarzennger has lived in the USA since 1968, but perhaps he'll be back. . .


PhD Study in Austria - Key Details
Universities 70
Nobel Prizes 21
Oldest University University of Vienna (1365)
International Students 70,484
PhD Length 3-4 years
Typical Fees (Domestic / EU) None (subject to conditions)
Academic Year October to September

Austrian universities

There are four types of university in Austria with different approaches to training, research and funding. All are fully accredited, but not all award PhDs.

Austria's higher education system includes the following:

  • Public universities - Austria's 22 pubic universities (Öffentliche Universitäten) are the country's oldest and largest institutions. They receive government funding and do not charge tuition fees to EU or EEA students. Most carry out research in a comprehensive range of fields and offer a diverse selection of PhD programmes. A small number focus on Arts or Medical subjects.
  • Private universities - There are 13 private universities (Privatuniversitäten) in Austria. They do not receive state funding and therefore charge fees to all students, with actual costs varying by course and institution. The qualifications they award are accredited by the official Agency for Quality Assurance and Accreditation Austria (AQ), but institutions are free to follow more specialised research and develop their own unique PhD programmes.
  • Universities of Applied Sciences - There are 21 universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen) in Austria. Established in 2001, these institutions focus on practical and professional training, often incorporating placements and internships as key components of their programmes. Fachhochschulen do not award PhDs themselves, but some may offer professional doctorate programmes in partnership with universities.
  • University Colleges of Teacher Education - Austria's 14 university colleges of teacher education (Pädagogische Hochschulen) focus on professional training and qualifications for primary and secondary teachers. They carry out some research in pedagogical practice and educational theory, but don't usually offer programmes above Masters level.

As an international student in Austria you'll probably find yourself studying at a public or private Universität, but you shouldn't necessarily overlook the country's Fachhochschulen - particularly if you're seeking to research in a professional subject area such as Business or Economics.

Other opportunities

Not all PhD training in Austria takes place at the institutions above. The country is also home to a dedicated international research institute and one University of Continuing Education, specialising in postgraduate training.

  • The Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) focusses on research in Science and Mathematics. Its specialised graduate school offers a unique interdisciplinary PhD programme.
  • Danube University Krems is Austria's only 'University of Continuing Education'. It focusses exclusively on postgraduate qualifications such as Masters degrees. Since 2014 DUK has also offered PhD programmes.

Austrian university rankings

Austria's universities are recognised leaders in a range of fields and this is reflected in their current international rankings. Five are placed within the world top 400, as calculated by the major university league tables. These include two of Austria's historic oldest universities as well as three of its more specialised institutions.


Top Austrian Universities in 2019
University THE 2019 QS 2019 ARWU 2018
University of Vienna =143 =175 151-200
Medical University of Vienna 201-250 - 201-300
Medical University of Graz 201-250 - -
Vienna University of Technology 251-300 199 301-400
University of Innsbruck 351-400 =279 201-300
Graz University of Technology 401-500 =363 -
University of Graz 501-600 561-570 401-500
Johannes Kepler University of Linz 501-600 =456 -
University of Leoben 601-800 - -
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

Do rankings matter for PhD study?

University rankings can help you choose a PhD project or programme, provided you know what to look at. Our guide explains how to use rankings as a prospective postgraduate.

Austrian university cities

Austria is a relatively small country, but its major cities are all vibrant cultural hubs with attractive heritage sites - including their historic universities.

The following are the main hubs for higher education in Austria:

PhD structure

A doctorate (Doktorat) in Austria is a third-cycle qualification, organised according to the qualifications framework adopted across Europe as part of the Bologna Process.

The Bologna Process

The Bologna Process brings together a range of countries to form the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). Members of the EHEA share a common three-cycle framework that allows degrees from one country to be easily recognised within others.

Despite operating within a common European framework the Austrian PhD is a very distinctive qualification, with a highly structured approach to students' training and development.

PhD programmes

Austrian universities don't tend to advertise specific doctoral research projects or invite PhD applicants to propose their own topics in advance. Instead they offer PhD programmes focussing on specific areas.

Some programmes are fairly general, with opportunities for students to work on a broad range of topics.

Others are offered as more specialised structured PhD programmes focussing on research on predetermined topics. These programmes are usually offered within separate doctoral schools (Doktoratskollegs) established by universities.

Programme length

The Austrian academic year runs from October to September and is made up of two teaching semesters:

  • Winter semester - 1st October to 30th January
  • Summer semester - 1st March to 30th September

You'll study within an Austrian PhD programme for 6-8 semesters (3-4 years) as a full-time student. It can be possible to take longer, but doing so as an EU/EEA student will incur fees at public universities.

In some cases the length of an Austrian PhD can depend on your existing qualifications. If you hold a Masters degree your PhD will normally be three years long. Students without a Masters may need to study for four years in order to complete additional courses.

The Austrian PhD process

Austrian PhD programmes typically follow a set curriculum involving organised study and training as well as independent research.

During the first part of your doctorate you will complete courses designed to advance your subject knowledge and develop practical research skills. These will be assigned a credit value and organised similarly to the classes and seminars that make up a taught degree (such as a Masters).

Towards the end of your first year you will decide upon an original research topic suited to your programme. This will need to be formally proposed to your supervisor and / or other senior researchers - a process that may also involve an examination procedure to confirm that your are ready to progress to the independent research stage of your PhD.

Once your research project has been accepted you will spend the remainder of your programme working towards an original doctoral thesis. This will be the core component of your PhD and the focus of your final assessment.

Supervision

You'll be assigned at least one academic supervisor to provide guidance and mentoring during your PhD. This person will oversee the development of your doctoral thesis and may also be responsible for assessing your progress through the programme curriculum.

It's quite common for Austrian universities to assign other support to students in addition to their main supervisor. This could include input from another 'second supervisor' or a more formal 'dissertation committee' made up of other academics associated with your programme.

Assessment and examination

Austrian PhDs use the ECTS credit system in accordance with the Bologna Process. A doctorate is worth 180 credits, all of which must be earned in order to gain the PhD qualification.

Roughly 20-30 credits will be awarded for completing courses within your programme. This may involve the completion of formal assessment such as coursework or credits may simply be awarded for attendance and participation.

The remaining credits will be awarded following the successful submission and examination of your PhD thesis.

This requires a formal thesis defence known as a Rigorosum. The process is similar to the viva voce used in the UK and other countries, but involves a public examination. Two or more academic experts will question you on your thesis in order to determine that your research is original and your subject knowledge is sufficient for the award of a doctoral degree.

Some programmes may also expect PhD candidates to have produced one or more peer-reviewed academic publications before their degree can be awarded.

ECTS credits

The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) provides a standard measurement for academic progress and achievement across a range of different national university systems. A PhD is normally worth at least 180 ECTS credits.

Austrian PhD qualifications

Most Austrian universities award doctoral degrees as a standard PhD (or 'Dr. phil'). Others also use more specific titles for doctorates in specialist subject areas.

The following are fairly common Austrian doctoral qualifications:

  • Doctor of Arts (Dr. artium.)
  • Doctor of Economic Sciences (Dr. rer. oec.)
  • Doctor of Medical Science (Dr. scient. med.)
  • Doctor of Natural Sciences (Dr. rer. nat.)
  • Doctor of Psycotherapy Science (Dr. scient. pth.)
  • Doctor of Technical Sciences (Dr. techn.)

Most of these are academic doctorates equivalent to the PhD and follow the format discussed above.

Fees and funding

Generous higher education policies make Austria a very affordable option for PhD study (particularly for EU / EEA students). Various forms of funding are also available, including academic scholarships and graduate teaching fellowships.

PhD fees

The amount you pay for an Austrian PhD depends on your nationality, the type of university you study at and how long you take.

Students from other EU and EEA countries pay no fees for PhD programmes at public universities provided they complete their degrees on time. In practice this means that you will have up to eight semesters (four years) to finish your PhD. Any additional study will incur fees of €363.36 per semester.

International students do pay fees at public universities but the maximum amount is capped by the Austrian Government at €726.72 per semester. Exceptions are made for students from some developing countries or non-EU countries in Eastern and Central Europe. Check with your university for more information.

All students pay fees for PhD programmes at private universities. Individual institutions are free to set their own charges, but the average cost is roughly €5,000 per semester.

Universities of Applied Sciences are also entitled to charge fees to all students. Costs vary and not all institutions offer PhD programmes.

Other fees

In addition to any PhD fees, you'll also have to pay a mandatory fee to the Austrian Students' Association (OH). This is set at €19.20 per semester.

Some private universities may also charge application fees.

Living costs

The Austrian Government recommends that students have access to at least €950 per month.

For further information, see our guide to living in Austria during a PhD.

PhD scholarships

There is no national scholarship scheme for students in Austria. Instead universities and other organisations tend to offer funding for specific programmes.

The nature of this funding varies according to the institution offering it. Scholarships at public universities may be limited to maintenance support. Private universities may offer more funding to offset their higher fees.

You can find this funding by checking the details for individual PhD opportunities, or you can use a grant search tool provided by the Austrian Exchange Service (OeAD).

Scholarship values

Low (or non-existent) fees mean that full PhD scholarships are relatively rare in Austria. Many students simply need support with living costs, and this is what funding packages tend to offer.

Employment contracts

PhD 'funding' in Austria may be offered in the form of an employment contract, or fellowship. This defines the student as a staff member at their university - with a salary and other benefits.

In return you'll be expected to assist with teaching, lab demonstrations and some administrative responsibilities, according to the terms of your contract. These tasks may increase your PhD workload slightly, but they also represent excellent experience and additional material for your CV.

Employment contracts are most common on structured PhD programmes at public universities. Some private universities may also award a small number of fellowships to the best applicants. Check with your university for more information.

Applying for a PhD in Austria

The application process for an Austrian PhD is different to that in the UK (and some other countries).

In most cases you won't be applying to work on an advertised project or submitting a proposal for your own PhD topic. Instead you'll be seeking to gain admission to a PhD programme that fits your subject area (and research interests).

This means that the emphasis for your application is less on the PhD research you want to do and more on your potential as a PhD researcher. The admissions process for an Austrian PhD programme is designed to assess this.

Entry requirements

Admission to an Austrian PhD programme will normally require you to have a Masters degree in an appropriate subject. This should be worth 180 ECTS (or equivalent). It may be possible to go straight from Bachelors to PhD study. However, this is likely to make your PhD longer (and require more coursework).

Some PhD programmes may also set entrance examinations. This is likely for structured PhD programmes and / or those that offer employment contracts to doctoral students, as standard. The entrance examination ensures that applicants have the right skills and experience to tackle more specific research (and to potentially fulfil teaching responsibilities or carry out other work as university staff).

Your university will probably set its own entrance examinations on topics that are appropriate to the programme specialism. Some may also use standard tests such as the Graduate Records Examination (GRE) or the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT).

Language requirements

The language of Austria is German and this is the medium of instruction for most university qualifications, including doctorates. Remember that an Austrian PhD programme usually includes taught units as well as independent research work and supervision.

If you aren't a native German speaker (and don't have any previous experience studying in German) you will need to submit a score from a German language test as part of your application.

Some specialist programmes may be offered in English. If so, you may not need to demonstrate German proficiency, but you could be asked to take an English language test, if appropriate.

Application process

It's a good idea to begin your application by contacting a supervisor associated with a PhD programme and discussing your interests. Doing so helps confirm that you're considering the right programme and check its specific admissions process.

Once you've done this you can begin your application. Most universities will want to see the following documents:

  • Academic transcripts - These should confirm the details of your existing qualifications and provide more information on the specific courses you took. Your previous university(ies) should be able to provide an official transcript, but you may need to have this translated into German and approved by a lawyer. If you have previously studied in the European Higher Education Area you may be able to supply a Diploma Supplement instead of a transcript.
  • Statement of purpose - This is more like a personal statement than a research proposal. It should set out your suitability to work within a specific PhD programme (the fit with your existing experience, interests and aspirations), rather than pitch a specific project you wish to research for your thesis (this comes later).
  • References - You may need to provide up to three references along with your application. These should be from individuals with experience of your previous academic work as well as your general character.

Because Austrian PhD programmes include a set curriculum, most will also have set application deadlines (it would be a little awkward to begin your PhD after some of its courses have already commenced!).

Institutions will set deadlines themselves, but they can be quite far in advance, with applications for a September start required by the previous December or January.

Interviews and examinations

Your university may wish to interview you as part of its selection process and / or ask you to sit an entrance exam (more likely for a PhD programme that includes an employment contract).

Interviews may be carried out remotely (using Skype or another video-conferencing tool) but entrance exams are more likely to require you to travel to Austria. Specific visas are available for non-EU/EEA students to do this.

What happens during a PhD interview?

Your interview for a PhD in Austria will follow a fairly standard format (even if the actual process takes place online). Our guides explain what happens at a PhD interview and look at some of the questions you might be asked.

Student visas

Visa and immigration requirements for PhD study in Austria will depend on your nationality.

Students from EU / EEA countries

Students from other EU / EEA countries won't need a visa to study a PhD in Austria. However, you must register with the local authorities within three months of your arrival.

You'll need to provide the following documents, in addition to your passport:

  • Proof of admission at your university
  • Proof of financial resources for up to 12 months of your course:
    • Students aged 24 and under should have access to €502.24 per month
    • Students aged 24 and over should have access to €909.42 per month
  • Proof of health insurance (see below)

There will be a €15 fee for registration, but you only need to complete the process once during your PhD.

Other international students

Students from non EU / EEA countries (sometimes referred to as 'third countries') will need to apply for a residence visa D (Aufenthaltsvisum D) from an Austrian embassy. This will allow you to enter Austria for up to six months, during which time you must apply for a Residence Permit - Student (Aufenthaltsbewilligung – Studierender).

In addition to a completed application form, you'll need to provide the following for an Austrian student visa:

  • Proof of admission at your university
  • Proof of accommodation in Austria
  • Proof of financial resources (these will be the same as those for EU/EEA students, above.
  • Proof of health insurance (see below)

You'll also need to pay a €120 fee for the processing of your application and visa documents.

Further information is available from the Austrian Exchange Service (OeAD).

Registering with the local authorities

All students must register with the municipal authorities in their local area within 3 days of arrival, regardless of their nationality and visa requirements.

Health insurance

Health insurance of some kind is required for all students in Austria. If you're an EU / EEA national you'll normally be covered by your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Other students will need to take out separate insurance with a local public health provider (Gebietskrankenkassen).

Next steps

The combination of structured training and independent research that characterises an Austrian PhD programme is designed to produce capable graduates, ready for a range of employment opportunities. Some of these may be available within Austria itself.

Can I work in Austria after my PhD?

If you're from an EU / EEA country, you won't need any further permit to seek work in Austria after your PhD.

Students from other countries can benefit from a generous post-study work scheme. This allows you to renew your Residence Permit - Student for up to 12 months whilst you seek work.

If find suitable employment during this time you can apply for a Red-White-Red- Card (Rot-Weiss-Rot – Karte). In order to be eligible your job must be relevant to your PhD and pay a salary of at least €2,308.50 per month.

A Red-White-Red Card is normally valid for two years (24 months) and may provide a pathway to permanent residence (subject to conditions). Further information is available from the Austrian migration service.

Find a PhD in Austria

Ready to start browsing some current PhD opportunities in Austria? Alternatively, you can look at our other guides to PhD study abroad.

Last updated - 30/11/2018

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