Higher education system in Switzerland

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The Swiss education system is a reflection of it’s federal system. Confederation, cantons and communes (municipalities) share responsibility for various parts of the system. This educational system can be divided into four levels. Higher education is part of the tertiary level of the education system.

At the tertiary A level there are two types of higher education institutions:

  • The traditional universities, including cantonal universities and federal institutions of technology
    Here, education is centered on basic research. These types of higher education institutions are regulated by the Federal Department of Home Affairs (FDHA).
  • The universities of applied sciences
    Here, education is based on applied research. They are regulated by the Federal Department of Finance (FDF).

In addition there is the field of higher vocational education and training (Tertiary B level).

Types of institutions

Currently, Switzerland has 12 recognised traditional universities (10 cantonal universities and 2 federal institutions of technology), 8 universities of applied sciences, 15 universities for teacher education, and further university-level institutions funded by the Swiss Confederation.

In addition to these institutions, there are also a number of private universities and educational institutions in Switzerland.

Types of programmes

The Swiss degree structure is in line with the three cycle degree system of the European Higher Education Area.

  • Bachelor's degree

The Bachelor's degree is the first degree. A bachelor’s programme takes 180 ECTS credits or approximately three years of full-time study. A Bachelor's degree is the pre-requisite for admittance to Master's level.

  • Master's degree

The second degree is the Master's degree. A master’s programme takes 90 or 120 ECTS credits. This equals one year or a year and a half of full-time study. A Master's degree and good grades are the pre-requisite for undertaking a doctorate.
Furthermore, the universities can confer Master's degrees in further education, the so-called Masters of Advanced Studies, with a minimum of 60 ECTS credits. This degree does not give access to doctoral studies.

  • Doctorate degree

The third degree is the Doctorate degree.

Since the implementation of the above outlined degree system has not been completed yet, degrees in line with the former degree system are still being awarded.

The first degree awarded is the Lizentiat/Licence or Diploma with a total length of full-time studies of 4 to 5 years and 6 years for medical studies (no ECTS credits). The Lizentiat/Licence and Diploma correspond to a Masters' degree level in the United States. At most Swiss universities, they are the pre-requisite for undertaking a doctorate.

It is expected that by 2011 only degrees according to the new two-tiered system will be awarded.