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Artikel aus 2011

It doesn’t always have to be Finland…
The Austrian and the Portuguese Education System:
A Comparison


This essay was written by the Austrian teacher training student Arne Traun during an Erasmus exchange in Portugal.. The main objective of the work is to give the reader an overview about the Portuguese and the Austrian education system.
Furthermore, the subject of teacher training in the two countries will be discussed, with a special regard to the past, current and future developments due to the so – called Bologna process.


In this section a historical review and a comparison of the development of the two educational systems of Portugal and Austria shall be presented.

Foundations before the 20th Century:

Religious schools

During and after medieval times, Austria and Portugal (see Figure 1: Geographical positions of Austria and Portugal) share a tradition of religious schools, starting in Austria as early as the 12th century. Old parchment documents verify the existence of Austria’s first school, the Stiftsgymnasium Melk, which was established by the order of St. Benedict. (1) In Portugal, monks taught in Episcopal schools and convents since the 13th century, which was put to an end through the expulsion of the Jesuits (and other religious orders) by the Marquês de Pombal in the 18th century. Some secular private schools were built to replace those led by religious orders, but it took until the 19th century until a network of secondary schools was established in the bigger towns. (2)
Figure 1:

Public schools

The Austrian public school system started its long tradition in the time of the enlightenment, specifically in the year 1774, when Emperor Maria Theresa introduced a state-wide compulsory school system, including 6 years of primary education, featuring the creation of primary schools (state-wide) and of general secondary schools (in bigger towns). The period of compulsory education was extended to 8 years in the second half of the 19th century and the free access to the school system led to full literacy of the population by the beginning of the 20th century. (3)
According to the sources of the European Commission, there is no account of a comparable Portuguese compulsory school system to be found before the beginning of the 20th century, although first attempts towards a compulsory system were made as early as 1835/36. The first effective system of compulsory education started in 1910, when Portugal became a Republic and the problem of illiteracy was recognized and fought. Thusly, the ensino primário was created, obliging children to attend at least three years of compulsory school. (4)


In the tertiary sector, Portugal was ahead of Austria when its first university (the famous Universidade de Coimbra) was founded in 1290. (5) It took another 75 years until Herzog Rudolf IV founded the Universität Wien in 1365, thereby establishing the first University in Austria and the German - speaking world. (6)

It seems astonishing that those centres of higher education were established that early, but that it took five more centuries (in the case of Portugal even six) until a broad foundation for education was laid with a network of compulsory schools, thusly building the system in an upside - down manner. On the other hand it is quite clear that establishing a nation – wide system of public school requires a lot more money and planning than the process of building one single university. Another factor might be that public schools probably would have made a much less significant contribution to national reputation than universities, keeping in mind that national reputation certainly was an important objective for emperors of those times.
One has also to keep in mind that, when it started out, the university was by no means the public place of interaction and (relatively) free thought exchange, as which we know it today, but “it was a Corporate Guild of Masters and Scholars who met in groups regularly to study the major and minor disciplines.” (7)
That said, it can be easily assumed that already in their early times the universities were subject and arena of not only academical, but also personal, political and religious interests, not mentioning the pool of diverse societies, clubs and other peer groups which evolved over time, when more universities and other institutions of higher education were established.

Developments in the first half of the 20th Century:
The first half of the 20th century brought a roughly similar development for the two education systems, more precisely a short emphasis on their (further) development in the early years of the century, which was crushed under the fascist dictator regimes of Hitler and Salazar which came to power in the 1930’s.
Austria’s compulsory education system was already well established and working to a degree of full literacy at the dawn of the 20th century. After the obvious challenges of the First World War, the breakdown of monarchy brought a new paradigm: “Education was to be rooted in the republican, democratic and social principles, and was to form pupils into citizens who were independent in their thinking and acting.” (8)
Promising new steps were taken, among them first attempts of interdisciplinary education and the public funding of free teaching- and learning materials in Vienna .(9) But soon the rising popularity of National Socialism and the annexation to the Third Reich put a sudden end to those efforts and brought a dramatic shift of education paradigms. Physical education and fitness became a major objective in boy’s education, whereas girls were widely indoctrinated towards their future roles as housewives and mothers. Discipline, obedience, and nationalism became overall principles of education.
In Portugal, the First Republic of 1910 brought along the creation of ensino primário, which “(…) was divided into three levels, elementary, complementary and higher (…)” (10), of which only the first one was mandatory. In 1919 the compulsory part was extended from 3 to 5 years, but in the course of the 1926 military takeover from which eventually the regime of Dictator António Oliveira de Salazar evolved, this time was cut back to 4 years. With the creation of the national youth organisation Mocidade Portuguesa in 1936, in which participation was obligatory for children at the age of 7 to 14, (11) similar fascist educational paradigms as in Nazi – Austria were set. Obviously those new political ideologies also arrived in the universities, perhaps with a larger impact on scientific life in Austria than in Portugal, where this period was mainly characterized by stagnation. (12) In Austria, the Nazi regime enforced an expulsion of Jewish scientists and political opponents from universities, often resulting in their emigration, or in some cases, their persecution and death in concentration camps. In this way, Austria lost not only some of its most excellent scientists, but a whole scientific community. (13)

The second half of the 20th Century:
After some minor adaptations in the fifties, the sixties brought the first real reform of the Portuguese education system since the times of the First Republic, although this happened still under the Salazar administration. The period of compulsory schooling was extended to 6 years, divided in an elementary cycle (4 years) and a complementary cycle (2 years). Parallel to the 2 years of the complementary cycle, teaching by educative television programs, called Telescola, was introduced. Group work, cooperation and interdisciplinary coordination were encouraged. Despite that, human- as well as material resources were still not prepared for the full implementation of those policies. (14)
Similarly to Portugal, the fifties didn’t bring any big reforms of education in Austria, mainly because of being devoted to post – war reconstruction and also because the two main parties in Austria (Christ Democrats and Social Democrats) needed some time to reconcile their differences. However, the year of 1962 brought a far reaching Education Act, which is still the legal basis of the Austrian education system and extended compulsory education to 9 years (a value that is still current). (15)
Already before the revolution of 25th of April 1974, when the Salazar regime was replaced by democracy, some significant changes towards the further opening of the education system to democracy happened. Also, the period of compulsory schooling was shortly increased to 8 years (See Figure 2), but after the revolution of 1974 the focus was to ensure a working compulsory education for the first six years. After a consolidation period, many measures were taken to improve the education system: curricula were updated, the position of teachers was improved (also with regard to more autonomy) and interdisciplinary teaching was promoted. In the early 80s it was clear that also the material factor had to be taken care of, “(…) and 15,000 classrooms had to be built by 1980/81.” (16)
Figure 2: History of Austrian and Portuguese Compulsory Schooling

The Education Act, which was released in 1986, still constitutes the foundation of the current system. It extended compulsory schooling to 9 years, dividing it into three successive cycles (see Figure 3). In a recent reform in 2009, compulsory schooling time was increased to 12 years, covering full primary and secondary education (from age 6 to 18).



As one can see in Figure 3, the Portuguese education system starts at age 3 with the optional jardim de infância (kindergarten) of which a public and a private type exist. At the age of 6, compulsory schooling starts with the first cycle of ensino básico, which lasts for 4 years and is taught in schools that are either exclusively teaching the first cycle (EB1), combining the first and the second cycle (EB1,2) or integrating all three cycles (EBI). The second cycle, which covers the age from 10 to 12, can either be taught in EB1,2, EBI or in a school form that combines the second and third cycle (EB2,3). Ensino básico is completed with the following third cycle, covering age 12 to 15, that can be taught in EBI, in EB2,3 or in secondary schools which integrate the third cycle. (17)
Figure 3
Figure 3: The Structure of the Portuguese Education System
To gain admission to the next cycle, the students are required to successfully complete the previous one. The same is valid for admission to secondary and tertiary education, with the exception that the admission to tertiary education can be obtained by taking specific exams which proof a satisfying preparation of the student. Of all the mentioned school forms, there exist public, private or cooperative (publicly funded private school) types. This is also valid for the last 3 years of secondary education, which are also compulsory since 2009 and take place in schools that are specialised in:

Scientific – humanistic courses
Technological courses
Special artistic courses
Vocational courses

Tertiary education is divided into ensino universitário and ensino politécnico, which are defined as follows:

“The Education Act lays down a set of common objectives, but distinguishes between the two branches by underlining that the role of the university is ‘to develop the skills of design, innovation and critical analysis’ (Art. 11, n. 3), while the role of the polytechnic institutes is ‘to teach theoretical and practical scientific knowledge and its application in future professional activities’ (Art. 11, n. 4).”(18)


Figure 4
Figure 4: The Structure of the Austrian Education System

Pre- primary education has been a responsibility of the Bundesländer (regions) for a long time in Austria, also regarding possible financial support for parents and regulations for the institutions. But in the year 2010 the law was changed state-wide, and though the Kindergarten still falls under the responsibility of the Bundesländer, the last year of pre-primary education is now mandatory and free of charge for all children at the age of 5. The implementation of this new rule started in the season 2010/11, making it one of the most current developments in the Austrian school system. (19)
The first four years of compulsory education are taught in Volksschulen (primary schools), or so-called Sonderschulen (special schools) which were created for children with special educational needs (although the premises include integration of children with special needs into Volksschulen, and vice versa). Those special schools can be visited for the whole period of compulsory education, which ends at age 15. After leaving Volksschule, traditionally the first step of selection is done, dividing pupils into Hauptschulen (general school) or the lower cycle of AHS, which is an abbreviation for Allgemeinbildende Höhere Schulen (academic secondary schools). The main difference is that AHS run for 8 years (from age 10 to 18) and offer a continuous education which is meant to prepare for academic studies at university, whereas Hauptschulen just cover the age of 10 to 14, thusly usually leaving one year of compulsory schooling uncovered .(20) Also, the education of AHS - teachers takes place in a 5 year university course, whereas Hauptschule – teachers are educated for only 3 years in Pädagogischen Hochschulen (university colleges of teacher education). (21)
Another possibility (except for the already mentioned Sonderschulen) to cover compulsory education between the age of 10 and 14 is to attend a Neue Mittelschule (New Secondary School), which has been introduced in form of a pilot project in the 2008/09 school year and represents a third alternative to the dual system of Hauptschule and AHS. The concept is to employ Hauptschule – teachers as wells as AHS – teachers and realize teaching in teams, to guarantee an individual learning support for every student. By now there exist 320 of such schools all over Austria, making them a considerable alternative to the traditional system. (22) According to an Article in the big Austrian newspaper Kurier in the issue of 10th of May 2011, this number will be increased to 434 schools by the beginning of the 2011/12 school year, thusly covering 17% of the students within the age of 10 to14. The same article also holds that there is a plan to convert all Hauptschulen to Neue Mittelschulen by 2016. (23)

At the age of 14, students who completed the Hauptschule or the Neue Mittelschule will generally have to change schools. The ones with good marks can be admitted at the upper cycle of an AHS or at an Oberstufenrealgymnasium, which is a type of AHS that exclusively covers the last 4 years of secondary education. Another option for students with better marks and a vocational intention would be to attend a BHS (Berufsbildende Höhere Schule = secondary technical and vocational school) or a BMS (Berufsbildende Mittlere Schule = medium level technical and vocational school) which can be both finished with the Berufsreifeprüfung (matriculation examination) which grants access to university education in both cases. (24) Students with low marks will usually have to attend a Polytechnische Lehranstalt (pre – vocational school), which covers one year and serves for vocational preparation. As the Eurydice report 2008/09 on the Austrian education system states, the Polytechnische Schule “(…) thus makes a significant contribution to a relatively low youth unemployment rate, (as compared to other European countries)”. (25)

As far as tertiary education is concerned, there are three main types of institutions: universities, Fachhochschulen (universities of applied sciences) and Pädagogische Hochschulen (university colleges of teacher education). The objectives of Fachhochschulen are similar to those of ensino politécnico in the Portuguese system, whereas Pädagogische Hochschulen exclusively serve for the education of teachers who aim to work in the field of compulsory education. The rest of school types in Figure 4 which have not been described yet, are mainly profession – orientated schools and colleges, which are designed for the specific needs of the field (e.g. paramedical colleges).


The Bologna Conference and the Bologna Process:
In the year 1999 a conference on higher education was held in Bologna (Italy) by the member states of the European Union. Later on, this conference has often simply been referred to as “the Bologna conference”. The resulting document, the Bologna declaration, set the aim “(…) to create a European Higher Education Area by 2010, in which students can choose from a wide and transparent range of high quality courses and benefit from smooth recognition procedures.” (26) The process of creating this European Higher Education Area (EHEA) is called Bologna process and although the EHEA has been officially launched in Vienna/Budapest in 2010, the Bologna process is not yet seen as finished, but as being in a state of consolidation and implementation. (27) Some of the concrete goals that are manifested in the Bologna declaration are the following:

To create easily readable & comparable degrees (BA, MA and Dr.) in a system that features 2 cycles (undergraduate and graduate cycle).
To establish a EU – wide recognized system of transferable Credits (European Credit Transfer System or ECTS).
Promotion of mobility & cooperation in Europe, also regarding quality assurance and curricular development. (28)

Teacher Training & the Bologna Process: Developments since 1999, the Current State and Future Perspectives:
The current legal framework in Portugal, that has been established according to the Bologna process in 2007 (namely Decree-Law no. 43/07) now requires every teacher in Portugal to obtain a master’s degree (mestrado), for every form of teaching from pre – primary education to upper secondary school education. (29)
In Austria, the situation is very different. Curricula of teacher education have not been adapted to the Bologna process yet. Currently, the system looks like this:

“Kindergarten teachers either complete five years of training from the age of 14 years onwards, or a two-year post-secondary course. Compulsory general school teachers (primary, secondary general, special and pre-vocational school) are educated at University Colleges of Teacher Education (public and private) which end with a Bachelor of Education. (…) Teachers at academic secondary schools must complete at least 4.5 years of university studies that end with a diploma.»(30)
In 2009, the Austrian government trusted a group of 10 national and international experts with the task to develop a reform plan for the education system of teachers. They came to recommend an integrated teacher education system for all fields that would start with a bachelor’s degree, then featuring as a second stage a so - called induction period, in which the student had to be introduced to the profession. Finally, the education process would finish in form of a job – accompanying master’s degree, which would enable the teacher to reach certain higher positions within his/her field. (31)
According to the expert group, the system should be implemented in a process that integrates all stakeholders in an open discussion, followed by the necessary changes in the legal framework and finally the design of the new study curriculum which should result in a new university course in the winter semester of 2015/16. (32)


One only has to take a look at Figure 2 to see, that the Austrian compulsory education system developed much earlier and in a much more steady way than the Portuguese system, which underwent a lot of changes throughout the 20th century. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Austrian system is the better one – in fact, there are ongoing reforms which aim to change the Austrian system in a way that would make it more similar to the current Portuguese system than it is now.
For example, Austria has a two – tiered system of Hauptschule and AHS between the age of 10 and 14, where the Portuguese system is a comprehensive one. The current reform that tries to establish the Neue Mittelschule in Austria wants to deal with the problems that this early selection creates. The objective is to use synergies between differently talented students, instead of dividing them into two categories by their marks when they are only 10 years old, as it happens now. This reform has been started as a pilot project in 2008/09 and is still in a project state that might end not earlier than 2016. Also the reform of the tertiary sector, which ought to be adapted to the Bologna Process, is still not fully implemented yet (e. g. in teacher training) and probably won’t be before 2015.
In Portugal on the other hand, a comparable reform was already implemented in 2007 with the issue of Decree – Law no. 43/07 and since then every person that wants to teach in compulsory education (or even in pre – primary education) has to obtain a master’s degree, whereas in Austria a bachelor’s degree is still considered sufficient to teach in compulsory schools.

But why is it so hard to change the Austrian system and (seemingly) so easy to adapt the Portuguese one to the current needs? This might be rooted in the very different development of the two systems, the steady growth and expanding of the older Austrian system on the one hand and the constantly changing, younger Portuguese system on the other hand. It might just be easier to get acceptance to reform a system which has since its creation regularly been object to a variety of reforms, than to reform a well established, deeply rooted traditional system, that hasn’t been changed too much in the last 250 years, the last major change being almost 50 years ago (Austrian Education Act of 1962). Many different interests are involved in every reform process of an education system (e.g. of parents, teachers, parties, unions and the federal and regional governments) and at times the discussion reaches a very polemic level.
On the other hand, the time of compulsory schooling and the education of teachers might be important factors of an education system, but they are surely not the only factors that determine the success of a system. Also, among others, factors as a good infrastructure, well – designed curricula, sufficient teacher salaries and a respected social status of the job contribute their share to a good education system. And problems may also not only arise from the structure of the system, but also from its paradigms. In her book Not for Profit which was released in 2010, Martha Nussbaum describes a global shift in education towards applied sciences that could leave the humanistic subjects and the arts seriously cut back, thusly endangering humanistic development of children, mutual respect and understanding and other key values of democracy. (33) A similar position was taken by Colin Power as early as 2000, though he stressed more the importance of education to master the challenges of a globalized and multicultural world. With regard to these developments it has to be stated, that curricula and educational paradigms are as well a key variable of an education system as its structure and should not be left undealt with in future reforms.
I want to conclude the comparison between Portugal and Austria with a brief account of the system’s performance. Some reform steps of the Portuguese school system were taken very recently (as the extension of compulsory schooling to 12 years in 2009) and therefore will still take a while until they produce any statistically recognizable effects, but already in the last 10 years Portugal’s education system advanced significantly in performance (according to PISA - data), whereas Austria’s education system was caught in stagnation, if not a decline of performance. (34)

That in mind, from an Austrian point of view, we can already learn a lot from the Portuguese development in the last 10 years - it doesn’t always have to be Finland…


(1): After: KOWARIK, P. Wilfried, on: http://www.gymmelk.ac.at [State: 29.05.2011]
(2): Cf.: EURYBASE (European Commission): The Education System in Portugal. [2006/07] p. 88
(3): Cf.: EURYBASE (European Commission): The Education System in Austria. [2008/09] p. 77
(4): Cf.: EURYBASE (European Commission): The Education System in Portugal. [2006/07] p. 54
(5): Cf.: University of Coimbra: http://www.uc.pt/acerca/historia/historiauniversidade [State: 29.05.2011]
(6): Cf.: University of Vienna: http://www.univie.ac.at/en/university/about-the-university-of-vienna/ [State: 29.05.2011]
(7): EURYBASE (European Commission): The Education System in Portugal. [2006/07] p. 124
(8): EURYBASE (European Commission): The Education System in Austria. [2008/09] p. 77
(9): Cf.: Ibid.
(10): EURYBASE (European Commission): The Education System in Portugal. [2006/07] p. 54
(11): Cf: KUIN, Simon: A Mocidade Portuguesa nos anos 30: anteprojectos e instauração de uma organização paramilitar da juventude. In: Análise Social, Lisboa, Vol. 28, No. 122, 1993; p. 556
(12): Cf.: EURYBASE (European Commission): The Education System in Portugal. [2006/07] p. 125
(13): Cf.: EURYBASE (European Commission): The Education System in Austria. [2008/09] p. 249 f.
(14): Cf.: EURYBASE (European Commission): The Education System in Portugal. [2006/07] p. 55
(15): Cf.: EURYBASE (European Commission): The Education System in Austria. [2008/09] p. 77
(16): EURYBASE (European Commission): The Education System in Portugal. [2006/07] p. 56
(17): Cf.: EURYDICE (Portuguese Unit): Structures of Education and Training Systems in Europe. Portugal. [2009/10] p. 7 ff.

(18): EURYBASE (European Commission): The Education System in Portugal. [2006/07] p. 127
(19): Cf.: EURYDICE (Austrian Unit): National system overviews on education systems in Europe and ongoing reforms. Austria. [2010] p. 12
(20): This may not apply if the student was to repeat a year of schooling (which is the usual procedure when failing in a certain number of subjects) and therefore already reached age 15 after completing Hauptschule.
(21): Cf.: EURYDICE (Austrian Unit): Structures of Education and Training Systems in Europe. Austria. [State: 2009/10] p. 9 ff
(22): Cf.: Austrian Ministry of Education: http://www.neuemittelschule.at/themen/kurzinformation_zur_nms.html
(23): Cf.: HACKER, Philipp: Neue Mittelschule: 114 neue Standorte. In: Kurier [10.05.2011] (online: http://kurier.at/nachrichten/2100832.php [09.06.2011])
(24): Cf.: Ibid. p. 41 ff
(25): EURYBASE (European Commission): The Education System in Austria. [2008/09] p. 111
(26): European Comission: http://ec.europa.eu/education/higher-education/doc1290_en.htm [06.06.2011]
(27): Cf.: EHEA: http://www.ehea.info/article-details.aspx?ArticleId=3 [06.06.2011]
(28): European Ministers of Education: The Bologna Declaration of 19 June 1999. p. 3 f., on: http://www.bologna-bergen2005.no/Docs/00-Main_doc/990719BOLOGNA_DECLARATION.PDF [06.06.2011]
(29): Cf.: EURYDICE (Portuguese Unit): Structures of Education and Training Systems in Europe. Portugal. [2009/10] P. 17
(30): EURYDICE (Austrian Unit): National system overviews on education systems in Europe and ongoing reforms. Austria. [2010] p. 9
(31): Cf.: ExpertInnengruppe Lehrerbildung NEU: LehrerInnenbildung NEU. Die Zukunft der pädagogischen Berufe. Die Empfehlungen der ExpertInnengruppe. Endbericht. [2010] p. 10 f., on: http://www.bmukk.gv.at/medienpool/19218/labneu_endbericht.pdf
(32): Cf.: Ibid. p. 87
(33): Cf.: NUSSBAUM, Martha: Not for Profit. Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. p. 2f.
(34): Cf.: OECD: http://www.oecd.org/document/53/0,3343,de_34968570_39907066_43433717_1_1_1_1,00.html [09. 06.2011]


ExpertInnengruppe Lehrerbildung NEU: LehrerInnenbildung NEU. Die Zukunft der pädagogischen Berufe. Die Empfehlungen der ExpertInnengruppe. Endbericht. [2010] Weblink: http://www.bmukk.gv.at/medienpool/19218/labneu_endbericht.pdf [09.06.2011]

HACKER, Philipp: Neue Mittelschule: 114 neue Standorte. In: Kurier, No. 10.05.2011. Weblink: http://kurier.at/nachrichten/2100832.php [09.06.2011]

NUSSBAUM, Martha C.: Not for Profit. Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. Princeton University Press; Princeton 2010

POWER, Colin N.: Global Trends in Education. In: International Education Journal, Vol 1, No. 3, 2000

KUIN, Simon: A Mocidade Portuguesa nos anos 30: anteprojectos e instauração de uma organização paramilitar da juventude. In: Análise Social, Lisboa, Vol. 28, No. 122, 1993. Weblink: http://analisesocial.ics.ul.pt/documentos/1223291360Q2mKP8gs4Te87DJ5.pdf [09.06.2011]

Websources _____________________________

The European Commission on the Bologna Process: http://ec.europa.eu/education/higher-education/doc1290_en.htm [09.06.2011]

The Austrian Ministry of Education on the Neue Mittelschule:

http://www.neuemittelschule.at/themen/kurzinformation_zur_nms.html [09.06.2011]

The European Higher Education Area Website: http://www.ehea.info/ [09.06.2011]

The Eurydice Website: http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/education/eurydice/index_en.php [09.06.2011]

Eurydice Publications: _____________________________

EURYDICE (Portuguese Unit): Structures of Education and Training Systems in Europe. Portugal. [State: 2009/10]

EURYDICE (Austrian Unit): Structures of Education and Training Systems in Europe. Austria. [State: 2009/10]

EURYDICE (Austrian Unit): National system overviews on education systems in Europe and ongoing reforms. Austria. [State: September 2010]

EURYBASE (European Commission): The Education System in Portugal. [State: 2006/2007]

EURYBASE (European Commission): The Education System in Austria. [State: 2008/2009]

EURYBASE: National Education Systems and Policies: Portugal. [State: June 2009]

EURYBASE: National Education Systems and Policies: Austria. [State: September 2010]

Focus on Higher Education in Europe 2010: The impact of the Bologna Process. Date of publication: 8 March 2010

Key Data on Education in Europe 2009. Date of publication: 16 July 2009


Bild von Arne Traun Arne Traun studies teacher training (subjects: physics, philosophy & psychology) at the university of Vienna in Austria. In the academical year 2010/11 he was on a student exchange in Portugal within the student exchange program Campus Europae.

Arne Traun studiert zur Zeit Physik, Psychologie & Philosophie Lehramt an der Universität Wien. Er hat im akademischen Jahr 2010/11 einen Auslandsaufenthalt in Portugal mit dem Studentaustauschprogramm Campus Europae absolviert.

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