Switzerland: Higher Education and Professional Training

Education in Switzerland is seen as a government responsibility. Of Switzerland’s total public expenditures, 16% is spent on education, which is higher than the European Union average of 12%. Education typically starts at kindergarten, but the compulsory age depends on the canton. All children have to attend primary education and lower secondary education. Students are then given the choice of three different paths for their upper secondary level education. Those who are more academically oriented typically attend a gymnasium where they can earn a baccalaureate after passing the “Matura” exam. Students can also earn a more specialized baccalaureate, and while it is considered a more practical and professional form of study, it also allows for scholarly pursuit. The final track students can enter is vocational education and training. In this track, students attend classes while also working at an apprenticeship. After finishing their schooling, graduates are able to immediately enter the workplace. However, these students are still able to earn a federal vocational baccalaureate if they wish. By receiving a baccalaureate, a student is eligible to enter into tertiary-level education. Around 86% of Swiss people between the ages 25 and 64 have completed their upper secondary education.

While any student with a baccalaureate is able to apply to university, most Swiss people opt for professional colleges or professional education and training diplomas. Only about 25% of young Swiss people enter into tertiary-level “type A” universities. Entering a university also does not guarantee completing a Bachelor’s degree. The first-year exam is so rigorous that half of entrants typically have to leave after the first year.

The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI)

The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) is heavily involved in the Swiss education system. This institution funds Switzerland’s two federal institutes of technology and is involved in co-funding and regulating the Swiss universities of applied sciences, professional education and training (PETs), and upper secondary vocational education and training. In addition, SERI aids cantonal universities when needed. Through SERI, the Swiss government allocates funding for competitive research grants and scholarships. The cantons also coordinate for joint educational programs.

SERI maintains a strategic overview of the Swiss educational system. Its goal is to ensure the high quality of Swiss education so that the country can be proactive and collaborate in the global arena in terms of education and research. Keeping this objective in mind, SERI prioritizes research at higher education institutions. As SERI’s main focus is research and innovation, the organization is dedicated to the diverse forms of higher education in Switzerland. SERI maintains the caliber of vocational programs as well by making sure that vocational tracks remain in line with changes in the labor market.

As an organization, SERI regularly coordinates and consults with cantons, higher education institutions, educational organizations, and stakeholders involved in their mission of research and innovation.

Professional Education and Training (PETs)

There are two different types of higher education programs in Switzerland that can be subdivided into four tracks. There is the tertiary “type B,” which consists of federal and advanced federal professional education, as well as training and professional colleges, and there is the tertiary “type A,” which consists of universities of applied sciences and universities, as well as federal institutes of technology.

Currently, the Swiss government recognizes 240 federal diploma exams and 170 advanced federal PET diploma exams. These programs are limiting in terms of carrier options. Within each industry only one federal and one advanced federal PET diploma examination is approved by the government for each specific field. The advanced federal PET diploma, for example, is geared toward the commercial and industrial sector. It is actually professional organizations that conduct the federally regulated examination for the diploma. These exams occur once or twice a year. For admission into one of these programs, students are required to complete vocational education and training programs and work experience.

These courses are not state-regulated, and can be studied for alone. Upon passage of the exams, a candidate receives a diploma and the phrase “with federal PET diploma” is added to their respective job title. By passing an Advanced Federal diploma, either a prefix “dipl.” or a suffix “with advanced federal diploma” or a “Meister” can be added to a job title. It has been recommended in university conferences that graduates of tertiary “type B” programs be allowed to attend university at the Bachelor’s-level at universities of applied sciences.

Professional Colleges

The next track for a tertiary “type B” education is attending a professional college. These institutions offer federally recognized programs in the following sectors: engineering, hospitality services, economics, agriculture and forestry, healthcare, social care, art and design, and traffic and transport. To be admitted to these colleges, one needs to have completed the federal vocational education and upper secondary level training with a diploma, accrue professional experience, and pass an aptitude assessment. Individual cantons are in charge of the education and training programs at the colleges located in their municipalities, and if they meet the proper requirements, the programs can be recognized by the SERI.

The curriculum for professional colleges requires enough allocated time, according to the profession desired, towards occupational profiles, competencies, and field training. Furthermore, it can be taught bilingually or even in English.

Professional college lasts around two years, including both educational and training portions of the curriculum. If taken part-time, the schooling will take an additional year. To complete the degree, there must be a practical assignment done, as well as an oral and written exam. The graduate is able to enroll in a university of applied sciences for a Bachelor’s degree.

Universities of Applies Sciences (UAS)

Switzerland currently has seven public universities of applied sciences and two private ones. The public ones are run by individual cantons. Since the Federal Universities of Applied Sciences Act, these universities have made it a priority to collaborate with partners abroad in teaching and research. They aim to raise the Swiss international profile, help the universities and students get a foothold in the globalized professional landscape, and offer more exchange programs for student from abroad.

Bachelor’s degrees last three to four years full time. In total students typically earn 180 credits in the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS).

Universities and Federal Institutes of Technology:

Bachelor’s degrees require three full years of study at these institutions. Swiss universities are known for their research, as Switzerland spends 2.2% of its GDP on research and development. As a result, the research conducted at Swiss universities has made an impact at the global scale.

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