Whatever it is, Switzerland has something special to offer you whether you like mountains, lakes, chocolate or technology. The fusion of German, French and Italian ingredients has formed a robust national culture, and you can enjoy the country's dramatic landscapes, quaint country settings, historic castles and heritage and of course the breathtaking Swiss Alps. The culture of Switzerland is characterised by the diversity of its geography, its languages and its religious affiliation. This is reflected in the variety of its literature, art, architecture, music, and customs.
Switzerland is densely populated, with an average of 183 people per square kilometer. However, there are major differences between the geographical regions. Switzerland has a population of about 7.4 million. Foreigners account for around 20% of the resident population.
Switzerland is internationally recognised as a centre of excellence for education. Alongside the state-funded establishments, Switzerland also offers a wide choice of high quality education at private schools. Both public and private establishments provide a comprehensive range of education at all levels.
The education system
Switzerland divides its education system into primary, secondary and tertiary levels. At every level there are educational possibilities open to foreigners. The tertiary stage covers universities and higher vocational training. Switzerland has universities providing general education and universities of applied sciences. Higher vocational training is provided by higher technical schools and technical schools, leading to vocational certificates and higher vocational diplomas. Both types of institute make up a dense network of education outlets in Switzerland, offering Swiss and non-Swiss students alike high quality tertiary education opportunities.
University education is provided by the following:
- 10 cantonal universities
- Federal Institutes of Technology
- 7 Universities of Applied Sciences
There are the ten Cantonal Universities and the two federal institutes of technology. These are the university institutes, some of whose histories, particularly in the case of the cantonal universities, date back to the 15th century. The oldest university in Switzerland in Basel was founded in 1460. All twelve universities operate more or less in the classical tradition of European universities in that they both teach and conduct research and offer a wide range of studies within the faculties of law and economics, mathematics and natural sciences, the humanities and the social sciences.
Universities of Applied Sciences
Then there are the seven Universities of Applied Sciences which have emerged since 1997 from the amalgamation and specialisation of around 70 advanced technical schools consisting of technical colleges and higher commercial comprehensive schools. The universities of applied sciences work under the motto "Equal standards, different approach". In other words, they have the same educational task combined with elements of general vocational training while taking a more practice-oriented approach through a close link between teaching and research. The universities of applied sciences provide applied vocational science-based training, carry out applied research and development, are key players in promoting knowledge and technology transfer and offer specialised graduate studies for professionals as a part of life-long learning. In 2004 around 44,000 people were studying at the seven universities of applied sciences.
Academic degrees and duration of studies
University-level education follows the bachelor-master system. Like other countries, Switzerland wants to make it easier for international students to move between universities, and in 1999 signed the so-called Bologna declaration. Reforms aimed at standardising the structure of studies and of degrees should have been completed by 2010. Under this new two-tiered system, the first grade awarded is the Bachelor’s degree (180 ECTS credits or three years full-time study) and the second one the Master’s degree (90 – 120 ECTS credits or one and a half years full-time study). A Bachelor’s degree is the pre-requisite for admittance to studies at Master’s level. A Master’s degree and good grades are the pre-requisite for undertaking a doctorate.
In addition to the institutions of higher learning named above, there are also a number of private universities and educational institutes in Switzerland. With 3 official languages (french, german and italian) Switzerland has a lot of international schools. Switzerland in general has earned international acclaim for the excellence of their private schools. Private schools offers language studies, a wide variety of hospitality and service programs, as well as Commercial & Management Courses for BBA, MBA, Executive MBA and DBA degrees.
The national languages of Switzerland are German (North, Central and Eastern Switzerland), French (Western Switzerland), Italian (Southern Switzerland) and Romansh - a derivative of Latin (South-Eastern Switzerland). It is possible to study in all three official languages in Switzerland. A good knowledge of the language of instruction is required. English is widely spoken in Switzerland. However, English is not one of Switzerland's national languages, so only a restricted number of courses are taught in it, mostly Master level studies. If you don't speak German, French or Italian, you should be sure to ask the school you are interested in about the language of instruction.
The academic year usually starts in October in Switzerland. The academic year is divided into two semesters: the lectures last in autumn semester from calendar week 38 to 51 and in spring semester from calendar week 8 to 11.
To be admitted to a university, candidates must possess either a state-recognised Swiss maturity certificate or another foreign certificate recognised as equivalent by the university. Admission depends on the specific university. The university in question decides whether to recognise the certificate and whether the holder is entitled to be admitted to studies. Applicants should contact their selected university well in time.
Often, good knowledge of the language of instruction is a prerequisite.
Private schools have their own prerequisites. Please contact the school you are interested in for further details.
Visa & Residence permit
When you have received confirmation of acceptance by a Swiss university or private school, please contact the Swiss embassy in your country for information on entry formalities for Switzerland. You will have to show proof that you have adequate financial means to support yourself during your studies.
You will have to apply to the police department dealing with aliens after your arrival in Switzerland to obtain a residence permit. You will have to present the following documents:
- a valid passport, if necessary with a visa
- confirmation that you have been accepted by a Swiss university
- a guarantee of sufficient financial means to support yourself during your studies
- statement concerning your address in Switzerland
- The residence permit will only be issued if your financial means are guaranteed.
(e.g. bank statement)
In addition, you will have to renew the residence permit annually. Foreign students are allowed to work up to 15 hours a week as long as the duration of the studies is not prolonged.
Working while studying
When you have retained your residence permit and proven you have the financial resources necessary to study in Switzerland, you can work alongside your studies. In fact, the student residence permit allows for profit-earning activity, as long your university provides a statement confirming that your employment will not prolong the length of your studies.
For foreign students, the number of weekly work hours is limited to 15, but this is fairly flexible depending on the canton (in Geneva, for example, you can work up to 30 hours per week). Nevertheless, most people will advise you not to take on extra work, since the university workload is already quite heavy, depending on the faculty. It is easier to find employment in the large urban centers like Geneva and Zurich. Each university has a job placement office that provides information on student employment. Wages vary between SFR 20 and SFR 35 according to the job and your skills.
University fees might seem nominal compared to the Anglo-Saxon system. The Universities actually belong to the public domain and are still financed in large part by Swiss taxpayers, with the exception of the semi-private Italian University of Switzerland. Some universities require foreign students to pay an additional fee, a pittance when compared to the actual cost of a student to the society, which varies by faculty between SFR 50,000 and SFR 150,000 per year.
Costs of living
A student’s monthly budget amounts to approximately SFR 1,800: food and upkeep from SFR 800 to SFR 850, lodging SFR 400 to SFR 600, tuition fees and supplies, transportation and insurance (approximately SFR 250). Students should be aware that several payments fall due simultaneously at the onset of their studies, for example first term health insurance payment, first semester tuition fees, first rent payment, which often includes an obligatory security deposit and foreign student medical exam bill. As such, you can anticipate a minimum cost of SFR 16,000 to SFR 24,000 per year, depending on where you study (Geneva and Zurich being considered as more expensive) and your standard of living.
Various scholarships are offered through bilateral agreements between governments and/or universities or within the frame of a pool. Scholarships are granted to postgraduate candidates from both industrial and developing countries. In fine arts and music scholarships for advanced students are limited to countries which offer reciprocal student programmes. Candidates should, in the first instance, find out from their own country's authorities whether they are entitled to a governmental scholarship or should approach the Swiss embassy or consulate in their home country. The universities themselves can supply information about scholarships which they may give.
For more information, go to:
The State Secretariat for Education and Research
The Federal Department for Foreign Affairs
Universities Rectors' Conference of the Swiss
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