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Switzerland:Adult Education and Training

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Continuing education and training (CET) serves to improve and update skills, abilities and knowledge, and to expand them to encompass new fields and tasks. CET activities take place alongside the formal education system. This may be within organised courses (non-formal education) or as informal learning (self-directed learning) (see definition below).
Continuing education and training is targeted learning, and is becoming increasingly important within the context of lifelong learning.

Most people living in Switzerland are involved in some form of education or training. Participation in CET activities depends, among other things, on the basic motivation for training, whether people have sufficient time and money, and what CET activities are on offer. People with a higher level of education tend to be more involved in CET activities. The employed participate in CET activities more often than the unemployed. Part-time employees working between 50% and 80% are most frequently involved in CET activities. Women more often choose a CET activity which is not directly connected to their professional life.

The Swiss continuing education and training landscape is characterised by great diversity with regard to responsibility, regulation, programmes offered and financing. CET is largely market-based. Private bodies often provide CET courses and programmes. CET is primarily each individual's own responsibility and is largely privately funded. The Confederation and the cantons have a subsidiary role in CET: they intervene in the areas of CET where it would not be possible to achieve the objectives pursued and intended effects without suitable regulation or supportive measures. The areas of responsibility of the Confederation and the cantons therefore include the particular promotion of CET for educationally disadvantaged persons. CET programmes in the fields of migration and integration, illiteracy, maintaining the ability to work, etc. may be supported by the Confederation and the cantons.


Various special laws passed by the Confederation include stipulations regarding continuing education and training. These regulations (like Switzerland's CET sector itself) have grown historically and go into different degrees of detail and serve different purposes, e.g.:

  • the Federal Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act regulates job-related CET,
  • the field of academic continuing education and training is regulated by the joint higher education policy organs of the Federation and the cantons,
  • various federal regulations apply to reintegration measures in the event of unemployment or disability,
  • the Swiss Code of Obligations and Swiss Labour Law also include provisions on continuing education and training.

Through the amendment of the education provisions in the Federal Constitution in 2006 (Article 64a), the Confederation was given the authority to lay down principles governing CET in an act. The Confederation may promote CET, and lay down appropriate criteria. Corresponding work is currently underway on a new federal continuing education and training policy and on a national coordination of CET. The Federal Council has referred the dispatch and the draft federal act on continuing education and training (CET) for consultation to the Federal Parliament, where it will probably be considered in the 2013 winter session

The act implements the constitutional mandate on continuing education and training (CET), organises CET in the Swiss education area and lays down principles governing CET. The aim is to improve the quality of CET courses and programmes and, by regulating and promoting the basic competences of adults, to contribute to strengthening lifelong learning.

In its draft act the Confederation defines continuing education and training as non-formal education, i.e. learning in structured programmes outside the formal education system. The state does not define any compulsory content requirements for the award of the leaving certificate, and does not issue any state-recognised diplomas or leaving certificates. Formal education, by contrast, comprises state-regulated education with state-recognised leaving certificates. Education is regulated by the state when the prerequisites for and content of an educational qualification are regulated in an educational decree, regardless of the standard level or state body which has enacted the corresponding regulations.
There is also informal education, which comprises a personal, informal learning process outside a structured teaching/learning relationship, such as self-study and learning at the workplace not covered by any regulation.


The cantons regulate job-related CET in cantonal implementing laws for the Federal Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act. Depending on the canton, general (non job-related) CET may be regulated differently, e.g. in a specific CET law, within the framework of the regulations on job-related CET, in laws on schools and culture, or on another legal basis.

The cantons coordinate transregional CET tasks in the Intercantonal Conference for Continuing Education and Training (IKW). The IKW is a specialist conference within the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) and acts in the interests of life-long learning. The cantonal representatives for CET form the IKW. In 2003 the IKW published recommendations on continuing education and training for adults. These define continuing education and training as the totality of the learning processes in which adults develop their abilities, expand their knowledge and improve or re-align their specialist and professional qualifications in order to meet their own needs and those of their social environment.

Legislative References

Bundesgesetz über die Berufsbildung [Federal Act on Vocational and Professional Education and Training]

Bundesverfassung der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft [Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation]