AUSTRIAN YOUTH POLICY: ADVANTAGES AND CHALLENGES
Hermann Radler & Ljiljana Ban
Republic of Austria, land-locked country in Central Europe with an area (83 879 km²) slightly smaller than the state of Maine (USA). With GDP of US$ 47 693 per capita in 2014 it is one of the richest countries in the world (https://data.oecd.org/austria.htm). Austria also ranks above the OECD average in jobs and earnings, subjective well-being, personal security, civic engagement, health status, environmental quality but below average in work-life balance (OECD, 2015).
Figure 1 shows the distribution of the national budget in the year 2012.
Figure 1: Total
General Government expenditure by function, Percentage of GDP, 2012; OECD (2015), National accounts at a glance
Two categories considering youth (social security and education) are the categories in which Austria financially invests the most. More concretely, according to the federal budget of Austria, the government spent EUR 9.2 million (USD 12,6 million) in 2013 specifically on youth policy measures. As a result of this investments, Austria has one of the lowest rate of youth unemployment, NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) and school-drop-outs. The Dual (Apprenticeship) System is seen as the key of this success with even some of the EU countries considering to adopt it. On the other side, some authors emphasize that this success story fails to mention inequalities concerning migrant background and segregation of the educational system which (re)produces social inequalities regarding successful (school-work) transitions (Knecht, Kuchler, Atzmüller, 2014). In the national level, there is a considerable gap between the richest and poorest. The top 20% of the population earn about four times as much as the bottom 20% (OECD, 2015). This gap highly reflects on the educational chances and further continues in growth. In this paper, some aspects of Austrian youth policy will be presented with a main focus on employment and education. After a short historical overview and an insight on Youth Strategy, biggest strengths of Austrian youth policy but also its weaknesses will be described. Finally, this paper will deliver a brief look at problems encountered by care leavers, a group which needs to cope with many challenges and is rarely mentioned in world reports.
2. BASIC FRAME
2.1. DEFINITION OF YOUTH
In Austria, there are various definitions of youth in use (BMWFJ, 2012): Austrian Youth Strategy targets 14-24 year olds (BMWFJ, 2013), while the Federal Youth Representation Act and the Federal Youth Promotion Act defined them as people up to the age of 30.Austrian General Civil Code distinguishes four age groups: child: from birth to the 7th birthday underage minor: age of 7-14 years mature minor: age of 14-18 years at the age of 18 they attain full age. Therefore, all underage children and adolescents, families and family lifestyles (pregnancies and parents) in Austria belong to the youth welfare.
2.2. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
According to the typologies and the wording of the IARD study (the IARD network -Task Force for European Youth Research) on the situation of youth and youth policy in Europe, Austria was characterised by a static definition of youth policy. In this context, ‘static’ means that the principles and structures of youth policy hardly changed over time. The youth policy model in Austria could be perceived as a protective model. In the first instance, youth was considered vulnerable and a group in society which needed to be protected, promoted and supported (Hahn, 2007).Before mid-19h century, the role of protector was carried out by Catholic Church. For the young people who were in need, Church provided places to sleep and a community to take care of them. After 1884, association of young workers (predecessor organisation to the socialist youth) cared about the education, workers’ rights and offered social community. In 1919, the state also became actively involved and passed a law which aimed at improving working condition. This so-called night-shift law states that juveniles between the ages of 14 and 18, as well as women, are not allowed to work at night. With a law from 1936 youth education came entirely under the state control. After the Second World War, the state implemented reforms concerning youth welfare, while the democracy and freedom became the main focus of (re)established youth organisations. When talking about ‘static’ label for Austria, it is important to mention that the first enactment of national laws on youth promotion and youth representation was in the year 2000 (until then only youth welfare was dealt within a national law, although youth and juveniles were mentioned in other laws). In these two laws, the ways in which youth organisations are supported and how they should be included in youth policy making are stipulated (Zentner, 2012) starting a more active national youth policy. Without giving up its protective approach, the government realized that it must strengthen the young people, empower them to recognize and to pursue their own way, and also to provide the structures to make a positive development towards adulthood a viable option.
In 2001, an Act of Parliament created a Federal Youth Representation Body [Bundes-Jugendvertretung (B-JV)], which – in all matters affecting Austrian youth – enjoys the same rights as the statutory representation bodies of employees, employers, farmers and senior citizens in Austria. In 2007 reduction of the voting age to 16 years is a clear commitment to an active, critical youth, assuming responsibility and taking decisions.
Network agency for Open Youth Work (the bOJA) was established in 2008. It provided the opportunity for Open Youth Work to exchange best practices, but also to get involved in policy making in a structured way.
National politics is determined to confront the European challenges and to prepare the young people for the life in Europe. It also aims to empower youth to design the future of Europe. (Hahn, 2007)
2.3. YOUTH STRATEGY
Republic of Austria is a federal state consisting of 9 independent provinces. Owing to its federalism, policy responsibilities are divided between federal government and provinces. Each of the nine provinces of the Austrian federation has its own youth department, which coordinates youth work in the province, offering services and organising activities for young people.
A recent study proved that only three federal laws are officially “youth laws”, but over 60 laws on the federal level target young people directly. These youth laws are on youth promotion, on youth participation and on youth welfare. (Zentner, 2011)
Agendas of general matter and youth policy coordination lie within the Federal Ministry of Families and Youth (BMFJ). Aiming to ‘strengthen and develop youth policy’ throughout the country, BMFJ launched the Youth Strategy in 2013. The goals of the strategy are to establish youth policy as a cross-sectional issue, to position youth work as an important pillar, to make the existing activities for youth in all political areas or fields of action visible, and consequently to improve the coordination of measures between the youth-related stakeholders.
The substantive tasks and organisation of the Youth Strategy are based on eight fields of action that are oriented towards the EU Youth Strategy from 2010-2018. Fields of action are namely: education and training, employment and entrepreneurship, voluntary work, health and well-being, youth in the world, creativity and culture, social inclusion, and participation. Based on this fields of action three strategic framework objectives were formulated: 1. Employment and learning; 2. Participation and initiative; 3. Quality of Life and a Spirit of Cooperation along with recommendations for concrete measures.Among these strategic framework objectives, the most relevant for this paper is the strategic objective of Employment and learning. The strategic goals in this regard are: In 2020 Austria will continue to be among the top three countries in the EU in youth employment (15 to 24 year-olds); In 2020 Austria will have the lowest rate of early school leavers in the EU; Austria will produce more company founders less than 30 years of age (Austrian Youth Strategy, 2013). The latter will not be discussed further on in this document.
3. EDUCATION-WORK – AUSTRIA AS A EUROPEAN MODEL OF GOOD PRACTICE FOR SOLVING THE PROBLEM OF YOUTH UNEPLOYMENT – AND THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN
Since the economic and financial crisis of 2008, one of the biggest challenges facing European society is the dramatically high level of youth unemployment. Nevertheless, there are big differences between the EU Member States. With Greece or Spain having currently every second youngster without a job, in Germany and Austria youth unemployment is around 10%, the lowest in Europe (Die Sozial Partner Oesterreich 2014).What is the reason of such a difference? What is the key of good results and practice in Austria? Has this Model of good practice any weaknesses?
Youth unemployment not only depends on the macroeconomic situation of a country, it is furthermore influenced by structural factors of the labour market as well as by the quality of the educational and training system. Young people have been in the focus of the labour market and education policy in Austria for several years. Many measures were established to facilitate the pathway form education to working life, to reduce drop-outs and to ameliorate the system. And not without the results: the comparably strong performance is evident not only in employment and unemployment indicators, but also in low NEET (not in employment, education or a training) rates and low rates of early school-leavers.
To a large extent, the Austrian success story is based on the Dual (apprenticeship) system.