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Located in Central Europe, the country of Austria is a beautiful Alpine country; a country which is completely landlocked and has a total land area of 32,377 square miles.  It is a close neighbor of Germany among several other countries, and the majority of its 8.5 million residents speak the Austro-Bavarian dialect of the German language, which in its original or standard form is the official language of Austria.  The capital seat of this parliamentary representative democracy is Vienna, which is also the largest city, with a population of 1.7 million.  One of the richest countries in the world, Austria boasts a nominal per capita GDP of roughly $48,350, and is one of the most oft toured European countries for its beauty and location—a favorite destination among winter sports enthusiasts.
 
Austria is fairly homogenous from an ethnic perspective, with just 15 percent of its population born outside of Austria as of the 2011 census.  Of this percentage, the largest non-German speaking minority groups consist of people who have come from countries once part of the Yugoslavia Republic, including those of Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian descent.  Other minority groups consist of individuals born in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Albania, Turkey, Poland and China.  Roman Catholicism is overwhelming the most popular religious affiliation in Austria, followed by Lutheran and several other Christian denominations. 
 
As a former world power, Austria has a rich cultural environment and has made many contributions to the arts, particularly music.  Home to famous composers with names such as Haydn, Liszt, Schubert and Strauss, Austria is a popular tourist spot for music lovers around the world.  Galleries and museums abound in this historical city, and its stunning ancient architecture, particularly seen in old churches around Vienna, is a treat for sightseers.  Austria has produced several Nobel Prize winners in areas such as science and medicine, and no bookshelf is complete without the collective works of Franz Kafka, an Austrian novelist.  The cuisine still demonstrates the influences of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and is famous for its proportionate balance of beef, pork and countless vegetable varieties.
 
Education in Austria
 
Responsibility for the public education system in Austria is shared by the individual states and the federal government.  All students are required to attend school for nine years, typically from age six to fifteen, beginning with primary education and culminating with secondary education.
 
Volksschule, or primary education, in Austria spans four years, beginning at age six.  Class sizes, which average 20 students, are generally very manageable for the lone instructor, and the school day lasts from approximately 8 AM to 1 PM.  During their primary years, students receive basic instruction in reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies, and are evaluated twice a year with a type of report card system.
 
As is the case in many other European countries, particularly Germany, secondary education in Austria consists of two main types of schools:  Gymnasium and Hauptschule.  The type each student attends depends on their grades and other assessment tools from primary school.  Students who prove the most able will typically attend the all-academic Gymnasium type of school and in their final year will take a proficiency exam called the Matura, which is required for entrance into the country’s universities.  Students who attend the Hauptschule, on the other hand, will be prepared, through both vocational education and basic general education, to enter the workforce in a career of their choosing. They can also continue their studies through one of several advanced vocational academies, after which they will qualify to take the Matura.
 
Higher education in Austria takes place at the country’s public and private universities and is open to any student who has passed the Matura.  As a member of the European Union, Austria has recently switched to a standardized credit and degree system outlined by the Bologna Process that helps facilitate student transfer between universities throughout Europe.  The degree structure is three-tiered, consisting of Bachelor, Master’s and Doctorate-level degrees, typically spanning three, two and roughly four years respectively.  As of 2006, certain programs, including those leading to medical degrees, require students to pass an entrance exam prior to being admitted.  Higher education in Austria’s public university system is free to all EU students, as long as they do not exceed a certain acceptable time-limit, usually defined as the normal timeframe to complete the degree program plus two additional years.

Map of Austria

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