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Switzerland:Higher Education

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The tertiary level covers university courses and tertiary level B professional education and training.

In the higher education sector courses may be completed at universities (10 cantonal universities, two Federal Institutes of Technology), at seven state-run and two private universities of applied sciences, and at universities of teacher education, which count as universities of applied sciences. The universities are active particularly in basic research. The universities of applied sciences are focused more towards professional practice and carry out applied research and development.

Tertiary level B professional education and training is carried out in the non-university sector. It offers training courses for demanding professional activities and management functions and serves management training and specialisation. Tertiary level B professional education and training includes training courses at colleges of professional education and training (PET colleges) as well as Federal and Advanced Federal PET Diploma Examinations.


Contents

Higher education institutions

Universities


The cantons are responsible for regulating the universities. They are the maintaining bodies for the universities, which they supervise. Under the legal framework the universities have broad academic, financial and organisational autonomy. They regulate and administer their own affairs and have academic freedom and freedom of research.

The cantons receive financial support from the Confederation under the Federal Act on Aid to Universities and Cooperation in Higher Education (UFG).

The two Federal Institutes of Technology come entirely within the competence of the Confederation. The Federal Act on the Federal Institutes of Technology (FIT Act) is the legal basis.


The cantons regulate mutual cooperation and cooperation with the Confederation in the Intercantonal Agreement on University Coordination and in the Agreement between the Confederation and the University Cantons on Cooperation in the Field of University Education.

The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) in the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) is the federal agency for national and international issues pertaining to university education and to scientific and applied research. The Swiss University Conference (SUC) is the joint organisation of the Confederation and the cantons for university politics. The SUC works in close cooperation with the Rectors’ Conference of the Swiss Universities (RCSU).

Universities of Applied Sciences


The Confederation and the cantons together regulate the universities of applied sciences in their sphere of competence. The Confederation has regulatory powers, while the cantons are responsible for implementation and supervision and bear most of the costs. Each state university of applied sciences is maintained by one or more cantons. The Federal Council grants the authorisation to operate a state-run or private university of applied sciences.

Within the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) is responsible for the universities of applied sciences. The Federal Commission for Universities of Applied Sciences (FCUAS) acts as an advisory body to the Federal Council and the EAER. SERI cooperates closely with the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK)’s Swiss Council for Universities of Applied Sciences. The Swiss Council for Universities of Applied Sciences is the strategic political body for intercantonal cooperation at all universities of applied sciences and at the same time the steering body for the universities of teacher education. The universities of applied sciences are brought together in the Rectors’ Conference of the Swiss Universities of Applied Sciences (KFH).

For the universities of applied sciences the Confederation has adopted the Federal Act on Universities of Applied Sciences (FHSG). The Confederation pays around one-third of the operating expenses of the universities of applied sciences.

Higher education landscape


With the new articles on education in the Federal Constitution (Art. 61a ff.) the Confederation and the cantons are obliged, within the scope of their responsibilities, to jointly ensure the high quality and permeability of the Swiss Education Area. Based on the new Article on higher education institutions (Art. 63a), under the Federal Act on Funding and Coordination of the Higher Education Sector (HFKG) the entire higher education sector (universities, universities of applied sciences and universities of teacher education) will in future be jointly managed by the Confederation and the cantons on the basis of standard principles. An intercantonal agreement between the cantons is required in order to create the new steering bodies; for the cantons this agreement forms the basis of cooperation with the Confederation. The Intercantonal Agreement on Higher Education (Higher Education Agreement) is currently undergoing the cantonal accession process (as at: 1 January 2014) and will potentially enter into force in 2015.


Tertiary level B professional education and training

Tertiary level B professional education and training covers the vocational and professional non-university sector of the tertiary level (tertiary level B).

It awards the qualifications needed for a demanding professional activity with specialist or management responsibility. The courses of education and training are varied as regards content, requirements and maintaining bodies, and are marked by their consistent orientation to the needs of the labour market.

Tertiary level B professional education and training is managed federally in partnership between the Confederation, the cantons and the professional organisations (OdA). The legal bases are anchored in the national legislation on vocational and professional education and training and in the EAER Ordinance on the Minimum Requirements for the Recognition of Courses of Study and Post-Graduate Programmes at Professional Colleges.

Tertiary level B professional education and training is a feature specific to Switzerland. In many other countries corresponding types of training are carried out at university.

Tertiary level B professional education and training is divided into the following two areas:

  • Federal and Advanced Federal PET Diploma Examinations
  • colleges of professional education and training (PET colleges).

Academic year


The academic year at higher education institutions is divided into two semesters. Each semester lasts 14 weeks at universities and 14 to 16 weeks at universities of applied sciences.

In the autumn semester lectures begin in calendar week 38 and end in calendar week 51, while in the spring semester courses begin in calendar week 8 and end in week 22 (with one week off).


Legislative References

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

Bundesgesetz über die Eidgenössischen Technischen Hochschulen (ETH-Gesetz)
[Federal Act of 4 October 1991 on the Federal Institutes of Technology]

Bundesgesetz über die Förderung der Universitäten und über die Zusammenarbeit im Hochschulbereich (Universitätsförderungsgesetz, UFG)
[Federal Act of 8 October 1999 on Aid to Universities and Cooperation in Higher Education]

Bundesgesetz über die Fachhochschulen (Fachhochschulgesetz, FHSG)
[Federal Act on Universities of Applied Sciences]

Bundesgesetz über die Berufsbildung (Berufsbildungsgesetz, BBG)
[Federal Act of 13 December 2002 on Vocational and Professional Education and Training]

Verordnung über die Berufsbildung (Berufsbildungsverordnung, BBV)
[Federal Act of 13 December 2002 on Vocational and Professional Education and Training]

Verordnung des WBF über Mindestvorschriften für die Anerkennung von Bildungsgängen und Nachdiplomstudien der höheren Fachschulen [EAER Ordinance on the Minimum Requirements for the Recognition of Courses of Study and Post-Graduate Programmes at Professional Colleges]

Vereinbarung zwischen dem Bund und den Universitätskantonen über die Zusammenarbeit im universitären Hochschulbereich 
[Agreement of 14 December 2000 between the Confederation and the University Cantons on Cooperation in the Field of University Education]

Interkantonales Konkordat über universitäre Koordination 
[Intercantonal Agreement of 9 December 1999 on University Coordination]