Higher Education in English

A sign of the times: The number of English-language courses of study in Vienna is on the rise

Top Stories | Johanna Sebauer | July / August 2012

At the Diplomatic Academy classes are in English, and while not all become diplomats, the model UN (above) is good preparation (Photo: DA/Pilo Pichler)

Ten years ago, there were few opportunities for college students to study in English at an Austrian university in Vienna. There were some exchange programmes for foreign students, like the Institute for European Studies (IES), and branch campuses of foreign institutions, like Webster University Vienna. But now, following the agreements in the "Bologna Process", a number of Austrian universities are introducing new Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes entirely in English, making local Unis accessible to international students as never before, and allowing not only exchange semesters, but complete degrees in Vienna.

"By providing English programmes, institutions of higher education have the possibility to recruit the best students and teachers from all over the world," Friedrich Faulhammer, general secretary of the Ministry of Science and Research told The Vienna Review. "Only the English language opens the access to international research co-operations."

Over 25 new English-language programmes now speckle Vienna’s higher-ed landscape. The following are three of the leading programmes.


The DA: learning to be diplomatic

"One of the biggest misunderstandings is that the Diplomatic Academy is an academy only for diplomats, because it’s not and it never has been," said Hans Winkler, the director of Diplomatic Academy Vienna (DA) in June. "It is a school that prepares people for an international career, and the diplomatic service is only one of various career paths our students pursue."

As students skid by on leather-soled shoes through the hallways of the DA, they follow a long tradition at the oldest academy in the world for careers in international relations.

When the so-called "Oriental Academy" first opened its doors to an honoured circle of eight students, all personally approved by Empress Maria Theresia in 1754, the youngest was only eight years old. The Academy’s aim was to train young men in foreign languages like Turkish, Arabic or Persian, to prepare them for service in the Monarchy’s mission in the Ottoman Empire. The students should neither be too young nor too old to master the "palate and throat" of the Turkish language, as it was put in a personal report to the Empress. Today Maria Theresia still oversees the comings and goings from a portrait in the dining hall.

Ambassador Winkler was once a student at the Academy and returned in 2009 as director. Despite his own long career in the foreign service, Winkler stresses that not even a third of the DA alumni choose to represent their countries as diplomats. Many work in business, in international organisations or EU institutions. Julia Chukwuma, first year Master’s student at the DA, has global aims: "In 10 years I would like to find myself in New York, working for the UN," she muses. Why not?

After almost 200 years, the DA was shut down in 1939 by the Nazis, and remained closed until 1964, when then-foreign minister Bruno Kreisky reopened it in its modern form. Kreisky had three reasons, Winkler explains: "First, he wanted to heighten the profile of foreign policy among the general public. Secondly, he wanted to open access to posts in the foreign service to all social classes. And thirdly, he wished to retrieve social scientists who had left the country during the war – a plan that didn’t work out quite so well."

Today, the goal is still to attract influential minds, and to inspire students for diplomacy and internationalism. Among the 2012 visitors, the DA counts the Dalai Lama, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Ali Achmed Karti, Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs.


Modul University Vienna

Opened in 2007, MODUL University Vienna (MU) is a private university, owned by the Vienna Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Wirtschaftskammer Wien), offering undergraduate and graduate programmes in business, tourism and hospitality management.

Located on top of Kahlenberg, the MU has a spectacular study environment, with a breath-taking view of the city, an invitation to widen your horizons in this international setting.

"My father wasn’t exactly delighted to hear that his daughter wanted to leave Belgrade to study at a private university," Alexandra Tanackovic smiled. "But in the end, I managed to convince him; there is no better investment than education."

Tuition at the MU ranges from €5,000 to €7,000 per semester, for Andreas Eder, Head of Marketing and Communications, the fee is "a logical consequence" of their standards.

"The quality of our programmes is very high and in order to maintain this, we need people to pay the fee. And just to be clear: Our students are not only spoiled rich kids as some might think. We have a very diverse demographic."

There is much talk about problems like "brain drain" – the phenomenon that highly qualified students emigrate after graduation. But Eder stressed the mutual benefits: "Even though students might leave after their degree, they still have a connection to Austria, which means they promote Austria as a driving economic force in tourism and bring a lot of business to our country."

Faulhammer is also aware of the risks, but he uses a different language: "The ideal case would be a ‘brain circulation’ – a cross-border fluctuation of highly trained people on a larger scale," building important personal networks, that "can help to improve and intensify relations between Austria and other countries."

At MU’s Student Service Centre, Jesse Alexander sits across from a map with multi-coloured pins showing the diverse backgrounds of the student body.

"We are very proud of our international spirit", said Alexander. While the greatest number comes from Austria (about 40% of 320), China, Russia, Romania and Hungary are all represented at their annual "International Day".



Unlike the MU and the DA, Vienna’s University of Economics and Business (WU) was not designed as an English language school. However, seven out of the fifteen Master’s programmes the WU currently offers, are now entirely in English.

"For a university of economics, it is absolutely essential to be international in order to be globally recognised," Dean Christoph Badelt explained. In 2011 the WU’s Global Master’s in Management – along with only a few other degrees in German-speaking countries – placed 18th in the Financial Times Global MBA Rankings 2011. Badelt realises that, "such a high ranking was only possible because of our English programmes and international focus."

Since places in the English Master’s programme are limited to only a few dozen students, they are in high demand, inducing the WU to launch three completely new MA programmes in the coming autumn term in "Information Systems", "Marketing", and "Socio-Ecological Economics and Policy".

"The MA in Social-Ecological Economics and Policy was more than fitting for me," said Stefanie Gerold, one student lucky enough to be part of the new programme, refining her BA in Political Science and Economics.

These international programmes do more than just teach English and give an international outlook. Gerold is in it for the content. "The international aspect is more of a side benefit, rather than a deciding reason for why I applied for the programme."

"Internationality and a high proficiency in English are crucial for today’s students," Badelt explained. "Since English has basically become the lingua franca of the scientific community," most of the most innovative courses are held in English.

The idea of the Bologna Process was to create unified higher education in Europe, guaranteeing comparability and compatibility between all European degrees, allowing students greater opportunity and mobility. As Badelt concluded, "sooner or later this mobility will be the academic norm."

Friedrich Faulhammer calls all this "internationalisation at home," which he sees as a definite advantage. "English programmes give local colleagues the opportunity to acquire skills that you normally only gain abroad," he said, "language proficiency [and] intercultural competences, experiencing different approaches to knowledge and problem solving."

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