Educational Leave and Part-Time Educational Leave in Austria
Text: Julia Bock-Schappelwein, Ulrike Famira-Mühlberger and Ulrike Huemer
Initial and continuing education and training cost time and money. Educational leave (training allowance) and part-time educational leave (part-time training allowance) are two schemes available to employees in Austria. They combine a training-related leave of absence from work or a training-related reduction in working hours with partial compensation for loss of earnings.
The educational leave scheme1 was introduced in Austria in 1998. Employees can be released from work for continuing education and training purposes in exchange for relinquishing their pay and receive financial support during this time in the form of the training allowance. Since then, the educational leave has been modified in several steps (see for example Lassnigg, Unger, 2014).2 The scheme underwent a major realignment just before the outbreak of the international financial and economic crisis in early 2008, when the benefit was increased significantly from a fixed amount of € 14.53 per day to the level of notional unemployment benefit3 and the required periods of preemployment were reduced from the original three years (Bock-Schappelwein, Huemer, Pöschl, 2006)4 to one year, or since the 2013 reform, to currently half a year.
In the middle of 2013, educational leave was extended to include the part-time educational leave, so that employees no longer have to be fully released from work during continuing education and training. The reduction in working hours during part-time training must be between 25 per cent and 50 per cent of the previous normal working hours, but employees must continue to engage in at least 10 hours of gainful employment per week. The wage replacement benefit paid (part-time training allowance) depends on the extent to which working hours are reduced; the daily rate is € 0.83 for each full working hour by which the normal weekly working hours are reduced or a maximum of € 498 per month.
What kind of courses are eligible? What evidence has to be provided?
The aim of both schemes is to provide financial support during continuing vocational education and training, such as catching up on school or university qualifications or foreign language courses, so that workers can preserve or improve their employability in a changing economic and structural environment.
During educational leave, evidence of at least 20 hours of training per week has to be provided (16 hours for employees with children under the age of 7 years requiring care), and 10 hours in the case of part-time training. In the case of a higher-education degree, after one semester (6 months) educational leave requires the presentation of proof of 4 hours of courses per week per semester or proof of 8 ECTS points per semester or confirmation of progress on the final thesis (e.g. diploma thesis) or confirmation of preparation for a final examination. In the case of part-time educational leave, proof of 2 hours of courses per week per semester or 4 ECTS per semester or confirmation of progress on the final thesis have to be presented. The Employment Service (Arbeitsmarktservice – AMS) is in charge of the recognition of these requirements and award of the benefit.
Who is eligible?
In addition to the employer’s consent, the eligibility requirements5 include satisfying the qualifying period under unemployment insurance law and an uninterrupted minimum period of employment above the marginal earnings threshold (2020: 460.66 / month) of six months in the current employment relationship (special provisions apply to seasonal workers). In addition to this, the Employment Service must be notified of the details of the continuing education and training project and evidence has to be provided of the required weekly continuing education and training hours.
How long is financial support provided for? How often can it be requested?
Educational leave has to last at least two months and can last a maximum of one year and part-time training between four months and a maximum of two years. Educational leave can also be taken in separate blocks, with one block lasting at least two months. Part-time educational leave can also be split up, with a minimum duration of 4 months. All the training must be taken within four years from the start of the first training phase.
It is also possible to combine educational leave and part-time educational leave (one day’s training allowance equals two days’ part-time training allowance). Educational leave and part-time educational leave can be applied for again four years after the start of the first training phase.
Who makes use of the schemes?
In 2018, a total of 10,035 people received training allowances under the educational leave scheme and 3,653 received part-time training allowances under the part-time educational scheme (Figure 1). These are financed from unemployment insurance; the total annual expenditure including social security for educational leave amounted to € 190.5 million in 2018 and € 21.6 million for part-time training (Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Heath and Consumer Protection – BMASGK, 2019)6.
Women and people of prime working age make use of educational leave and part-time educational leave disproportionately often;7 people without Austrian citizenship or with a migration background (first generation) and people aged 50 and over less frequently. Almost half of all those participating in the scheme have passed at least the Matura (higher education entrance qualification) (BMASGK, 2019).
This means that the schemes are used disproportionately often by people with higher qualifications or those with a high propensity for (continuing) education and training, whilst both educational leave and part-time educational leave are hardly ever used to obtain basic qualifications (compulsory school-leaving qualifications, apprenticeship and finishing vocational secondary school). The reasons for this are likely to be the fact that the funding period is restricted to one or two years and the disparately poorer level of financial security the scheme offers the low-skilled. Not only is their income often markedly lower than that of the higher-skilled prior to using the scheme, the wage replacement payment during the training phase is as well.