Differences in Education in Ireland and Austria

My year abroad in Vienna was a rewarding educational experience for many reasons. There is a multitude of differences between Maynooth University and Universität Wien. Both are beautiful in different ways, one looks like Hogwarts, and the other looks like an Imperial palace. It is a dream to walk in both, and I am fortunate enough to say I attended each institute. Uni Wien is like Hogwarts too and has many many many staircases which feel like they are turning constantly, also adding a feeling of Harry Potter-esque style- I either became breathless from climbing to the top floors or got lost in the process. Stiege is the German word for stairs.  Languages are learned abroad from seeing things repeatedly, this word in particular was everywhere!  It was unusual to be placed in a German speaking university. All my classes were held through English which was no problem, however all the university emails, websites, Moodle and forums were in German, translation was annoying, so through those processes I learned most of the German I came back home with.

Each lecture is 1.5 hours long and this is the only time a certain module is held in a week; unlike in Arts in Maynooth where there are 2 x 1 hour lectures per week. Sitting down for 1.5 hours straight took time to get used to. I found Uni Wien to be very strict in marking. Usually 60 percent is the passing rate, so while my Erasmus year was a holiday in some ways, I still had to keep up with the workload. They also love multiple choice over there, and sometimes negative marking is part of this. The biggest difference I noticed between the Irish and Austrian and the ways they learn was, how biased as it may seem, Ireland is a better and more enriching experience.

  • While Austria love their multiple choice exams- this goes to show that it is easier in many ways, take for example any exam in Arts in Maynooth. Students usually get a question and have to write essays based on said questions. Essays with a clear argument, thereby showing how much you have studied and read to come up with judgments and opinions. This method will stay with you as years go by, and you will come out educated in whatever it is, this also prepares you to speak about it openly and confidently and of course be more objective, and think more openly in general, decide for yourself, become an independent learner but at the same time being able to share and navigate an array of opinions, whether this is in person or read on a page. Multiple choice on the other hand is hmm how should I say … not sufficient enough. Sure it may be quicker but not very satisfying. I felt in Uni Wien I did not have to study as hard for some exams because I knew I would get a question and around 4 possible answers and just tick a box. Most of the time I could make a guess and could get it right. Ticking a box does not highlight my understanding of a certain topic. I understand why they use this method in Austria a lot of the time, especially in Vienna where there are over 90,000 students. Correcting essays would take surely a very long time. Electronic computer based correction is needed for the vast amount of people and is cheaper in the long run.

 

  • While they are strict over there when it comes to marking, when it comes to everything else the student is in total control of their studies. I met many students who after let’s say 1 year of study had only 15 credits. It took me a long time to understand how and why. I was so used to the 30 credits per semester, that hearing this left me totally confused for the first few months. I told everyone 60 credits are a must back home in Maynooth. Ireland, in particular Maynooth, has discipline and structure. This method is advantageous because your studies for a degree is completed faster. I still to this day cannot comprehend how people live in Vienna with ‘so little’ credits after a long time of study. Sure, some may have to work to fend for themselves economically while they study, however I found Irish students far more hardworking and dedicated. Of course I’m generalising, over there, there are those people who are hardworking and focused. Yet, doing the ‘whatever you want to do’ may leave students lazier in the process. Both experiences in the different settings have their own developmental issues, and have both positive and negative outcomes.

 

  • Another difference is the dates of the academic year. In Austria, winter semester runs from October to January and summer semester is March-June. They get one month off in February. Another way Maynooth is much stricter. In Maynooth there is only one time at the end of each semester to sit an exam along with a repeat option in August. In Austria if I, for instance choose not to sit an exam in January or fail it, I get 4 times altogether to sit it, or 3 times to chance repeating it. For the winter semester these repeats are in March, April or June. For summer semester, repeat options are in September, December or January. As you can see, students have a lot of liberty in Austria.

 

  • Fees are a major difference in both settings. €1870 is the price for a semester to attend Uni Wien. With cheap prices like that, it is no wonder why many Irish students are thinking about going over to Europe to do a masters nowadays.

 

  • Lastly, a final difference and not to be taken for granted are Clubs and Societies. Maynooth is amazing with wonderful opportunities to get involved in many different things. Clubs and Societies generally do not exist ‘on the continent’. Apart from some sports, in such a large environment of so many students in Austria you may feel lonely as time goes on. Sometimes it is hard to adjust. I learned about this experience of some by speaking with students coming into Vienna from other towns across Austria. The fees are so cheap, this may be the reason that there is no funding for such leisurely activities. It is unfortunate that they are lacking recreational activities so much within the University itself. However, this is made up for, I cannot stress enough, how much there is to do in the city of Vienna. Certainly it is easier to meet people and make many friends outside the educational environment.

 

Both countries have amazing and unique ways of learning. In this context I am happy to be back home in the Irish setting for my own reasons. However, I miss the University of Vienna terribly. I found the styles of teaching there exceptional and of an extremely high standard. The professors were from different backgrounds and were amazing at what they taught, and offered feedback and office hours and the like and gave me great insight into how I could do better.  On my first day at the University of Vienna, Professor Fagan introduced himself. You never guess where he was from? 😉

I felt extremely welcomed in Austria. In the university especially. I sat beside people every day and they were shocked that I came all the way from Ireland. It is a wonderful feeling when away from home to be given such warmth and compliments just for being Irish.

I would say they show a lot more courtesy and respect to their professors over there at the end of classes. Anyone who reads this will know the famous ‘knock on the desk’ in German/Austrian educational settings. At the end of each class, Austrian students knock on the desk loudly to show a sign of gratitude for the lecturer’s time. I found it amazing. Here in Maynooth we usually just clap at the end of the semester/last day of class with the lecturer.

I hope you have enjoyed reading the differences. Please accept above opinions were just personal understandings and by no means let it stop you going to Austria to study! The university developed me in so many more ways, and definitely for sure I am getting higher grades in final year because of my Erasmus experience. The system over there benefited me to become more hardworking and focused, more conscious of time, and planning my workload along with personal engagements.

Any questions on Vienna/Erasmus/Year Abroad- feel free to email me – barbarareynolds13@gmail.com

Enjoy the photos! <3

evening-time-at-university    universitys-choir-christmas-concert                                                     vienna