When I studied abroad at Karl-Franzens Universität Graz (Graz) in Austria, I regularly compared university life there with university life here in Canada. I noticed several similarities between both countries, as well as many differences. If you are thinking of studying abroad in Austria, you should definitely keep these changes in mind.
I found there to be more differences than similarities overall. With that in mind, I will list similarities first. I found that both TRU and Graz classes used online forums for distributing assignments, grades, and for overall communication between professors and students. Both schools used Moodle.
There is also a lot of self-study. The professors lecture and then assign readings, papers to write, or other study materials. They also posted additional readings for students interested in learning more about the subject. Some professors require mandatory attendance, while others do not care whether students attend class or not! I found that this really depended on the type of class along with the personality of the professor, which rings true for both Canada and Austria.
There were quite a few differences that I observed between university life in Austria and university life in Canada.
Classes: In Graz, the classes were sorted into different categories: lectures, seminars, pro-seminars, and labs. Not only had I never even heard of pro-seminars, but at TRU, pretty much all my classes are in a lecture format often with an accompanying lab or an accompanying seminar; I had never heard of a class being in a seminar format by itself.
The seminar and pro-seminar classes have mandatory attendance. If students miss more than two sessions, they are kicked out of the class and do not receive a grade for it. From my own experience and from my friends who took other seminar-type classes, we found that these types of classes are more assignment-heavy, with essays, quizzes, and presentation work with the possibility of a final exam.
For lecture-based classes, attendance is not mandatory and students can choose whether to attend the class or not. They need to be aware, however, that their marks are determined by a final exam worth 100% of the grade; therefore, not attending the lecture may be detrimental to their learning (On the other hand, if they find they do best by self-study, they could do all of their studying at home and still end up with a good final grade!).
Classes are also offered in non-German languages, such as English or French.
Professors: The Professors in Graz come from all over the world. I only had two professors who were actually from Austria; my other professors were from France and Hungary, and I had friends whose professors were from the United States, the UK, and Germany.
Exams: Examinations in Austria are very different than Canadian exams. I’m not talking just about the exam format, but their whole system. For example, students can rewrite exams, and I was told that you can actually rewrite certain exams up to four times! The school must offer multiple exam taking periods throughout the year, and students are able to cancel their exams and take them at a later date.
My roommate, who was supposed to take a final exam the following day, told me that he had “de-registered” from his exam because he didn’t feel ready for it and would write it in October instead! I was shocked! We definitely aren’t able to do that in Canada! That being said, I can’t imagine having the whole summer off to then have to write a final exam at the beginning of the semester. It’s nice to be completely done before the holidays!
Exams and Grading: Austria also has a completely different marking system. While in Canada our marks are based on percentages that are translated into letter grades, Austria has a number-based marking system. They have four passing grades: 1, 2, 3, and 4, with the highest grade being a 1, and one failing grade: 5.
Undergraduate programs in Austria are three years in length. This is most often followed by a two-year master’s program. However, they are different from master’s programs in Canada; master’s programs in Austria are more of a continuation of a bachelor’s degree, whereas in Canada, master’s programs are either specialties, such as in Physiotherapy or Occupational Therapy, or research-based in a specific area that you are interested in.
During my exchange, I found these similarities and differences to be quite fascinating! While I found these differences opened my eyes to how post-secondary education can be quite different globally, it also gave me a deeper appreciation for the way the university system is run here in Canada.