25 Years UAS
Since the introduction of the University of Applied Sciences, these universities not only exceed their own reputation but also that of traditional universities. After 25 years Austrian Universities of Applied Sciences all over the country and their graduates have attained an excellent image, as shown by a current public survey of the Institute for Empirical Social Studies (IFES). In this study, UASs score highest in the category “overall impression”: 69% of the respondents rated their impression of UASs as “very good”, while traditional universities were only given the highest mark by 65%.
Let’s take a short trip back in time to the year 1994. When Universities of Applied Sciences were founded 25 years ago, numerous educational-political goals were brought together: The aim was to create an offering of tertiary-level programmes that were founded in practice and tailored to specific professional fields that suited societal and economic demands. Good student advising, compulsory work placements, compact schedules, a degree in the prescribed period of study and practically-oriented teaching – these were the reasons back then for establishing the UAS sector and still shape the profile of a UAS today.
For the majority of secondary-school-leavers 25 years ago, the most important thing after earning their school-leaving certificate was to be accepted to a university – a system in which students first have to get oriented, organise their own schedules themselves, and figure out which subjects to combine. Few even considered returning to a “school-like” system. Thus, at the beginning, these new universities were viewed by some with scepticism. Nowadays, however, more and more students are completing their university education at a University of Applied Sciences. The numbers exemplify the impressive development of the UAS sector: In Winter Semester 1994, 693 students commenced their studies. Ten years later, in the year 2004/05, it was 4,217 students, 38.6% of whom were women and 61.4% men. Another ten years later, in the 2014/15 academic year, the number had tripled: 13,114 people completed their degree at a UAS – 49.5% of whom were female, 50.5% were male. In the 2017/18 academic year, it was even 14,380 graduates, and, for the first time in the history of Universities of Applied Sciences, more women (51.5%) than men (48.5%) completed their studies.
Broad spectrum, large selection
The content of the study programmes has also changed considerably: in 1994 there were only ten engineering and business study programmes. In the meantime, the spectrum of fields offered at UASs ranges from Health Sciences, Social Sciences and Natural Sciences to Security and Design. The academisation of the education for entire professional groups, such as nursing or medical-technical services, offers new possibilities for cooperation and inter-disciplinary development in teaching and research.
Without a doubt, Universities of Applied Sciences now make a considerable contribution to the educational landscape. The significance attributed to UASs is shown by an interview with the Austrian Federal Minister of Education, Research and Science, Iris Rauskala. One of the greatest strengths of the UAS sector is by far the close cooperation with business and industry – including the study programmes available to working students and the application-oriented teaching and research in cooperation with small and medium-sized enterprises: “The use of potential for innovation in these intersecting areas is essential for the further development of Austria as a location for business and science,” says Rauskala.
In an international and extremely competitive environment, universities would be confronted with the challenge of asserting themselves due to their special profile – not only in the competition for the best employees and research but in the fulfilment of their regional and national educational mandate, according to Rauskala. “It is going to be about the strengthening and focusing of the individual profile to align the academic and practically-oriented education as closely as possible to demand – with the highest degree of quality.” Concerning the further development of UASs, Rauskala sees great potential regarding the establishment and intensification of cooperations with other educational institutions and businesses. Ultimately, it is not only a matter of remaining competitive in the region but also becoming more attractive internationally. Even after 25 years, the same reason for founding UASs in the tertiary sector still applies. These universities have not lost any of their timeliness or relevance, according to Rauskala: “Universities of Applied Sciences should continue to expand as needed. This need will certainly be a criterion for development.”