Switzerland

The Swiss university sector is composed of ten universities, each regulated by and operating in one given Swiss canton, and two federal institutes of technology (in Zurich and Lausanne), which have specific statuses. The large majority of Swiss students are registered with the cantonal universities. Higher education in Switzerland also includes universities of applied sciences and universities of teacher education. In 2011, a federal law was passed in relation to the funding and the coordination of the Swiss higher education sector. As a result, university associations were re-organised at a federal level, and political coordination was enhanced through the creation of an arena bringing together both the cantonal ministers and the federal minister responsible for higher education.

In Switzerland regulations governing the activities of universities stem from both the cantonal and the federal level, with the cantons as the primary organising authority and public funder. The federal institutes of technology are regulated at and financed by the federal level.  Since each of the cantonal universities operates in a different canton, each of the ten institutions operates within a specific legal framework, making the overall picture highly diverse and challenging to cover at an aggregated level. Practices differ from one canton to the other. In addition, there is an ongoing broader ‘modernisation’ process whereby cantons review the legislation applying to higher education institutions, making the picture not only a complex, but also a developing one.

This profile focuses primarily on cantonal universities. Despite their diversity it is possible to outline frequent or common features, which have not significantly evolved since 2010.

Recent developments:

The Federal Act on the Funding and Coordination of the Higher Education Sector was passed in 2011 and implemented from 2015 onwards, including:

  • a new institutional accreditation system
  • financial provisions incentivising cooperation in the sector

Organisational autonomy: medium low

Despite variety in the system, the decision on the selection process of the executive head always has to be validated by an external authority and their term of office is set by law. Universities are usually able to decide on selection criteria and dismissal procedure. University boards/councils include only external members, whose appointment is confirmed by an external authority. Universities may decide on internal academic structures and may create non-for-profit legal entities.

Financial autonomy: medium high

Universities generally receive funding via annual block grants from the cantonal authorities without restrictions on internal allocation. Other financial restrictions vary significantly depending on the canton; close cooperation with the cantonal authorities is necessary to allocate any surplus or regarding real estate ownership. Borrowing is not directly accessible to universities. Universities and an external authority co-operate to set the level of tuition fees for all cycles.

Academic autonomy: medium high

Universities do not have the capacity to decide on overall student numbers nor to select students. However, they can introduce programmes without prior accreditation, choose the language of instruction and are free to select the quality assurance providers performing new mandatory institutional accreditation.

Staffing autonomy: high

Universities are able, broadly, to recruit senior academic and administrative staff, decide on their salaries and promote them autonomously, although there again cantonal specificities apply. While civil servant status has been essentially phased out, senior academic staff categories remain covered by particular regulations for dismissals.

Organisational weighted 55% unweighted 56%

0

0% Selection procedure for the executive head

The selection of the executive head is validated by an external authority

100

100% Selection criteria for the executive head

The selection criteria for the executive head are not stated in the law

100

100% Dismissal of the executive head

The procedure for the dismissal of the executive head is not stated in the law

0

0% Term of office of the executive head

The exact length is stated in the law

29

29% External members in university governing bodies

Universities cannot decide as they must include external members

The appointment is completely controlled by an external authority

This applies to 5 other countries: Hungary, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Serbia, Spain,

100

100% Capacity to decide on academic structures

Universities can decide on their academic structures without constraints

60

60% Capacity to create legal entities

Universities are only allowed to create not-for-profit legal entities

This applies to 2 other countries: Portugal, Slovenia,

Financial weighted 65% unweighted 62%

60

60% Length of public funding cycle

100

100% Type of public funding

Block grant and there are no restrictions on the allocation of funding

0

0% Ability to borrow money

Universities cannot borrow money

This applies to 5 other countries: Hesse, Hungary, Norway, Portugal, Serbia,

100

100% Ability to keep surplus

Surplus can be kept without restrictions

60

60% Ability to own buildings

Universities can sell their buildings with the approval of an external authority

This applies to 5 other countries: Croatia, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, Slovenia,

60

60% Tuition fees for national/EU students at Bachelor level

Universities and an external authority cooperate in setting the level of tuition fees

This does not apply to any other country.

60

60% Tuition fees for national/EU students at Master's level

Universities and an external authority cooperate in setting the level of tuition fees

This does not apply to any other country.

60

60% Tuition fees for national/EU students at doctoral level

Universities and an external authority cooperate in setting the level of tuition fees

This applies to one other country: Slovenia

60

60% Tuition fees for non-EU students at Bachelor level

Universities and an external authority cooperate in setting the level of tuition fees

This applies to 4 other countries: Denmark, Finland, Poland, Slovenia,

60

60% Tuition fees for non-EU students at Master's level

Universities and an external authority cooperate in setting the level of tuition fees

This applies to 4 other countries: Denmark, Finland, Poland, Slovenia,

60

60% Tuition fees for non-EU students at doctoral level

Universities and an external authority cooperate in setting the level of tuition fees

This applies to 3 other countries: Hungary, Poland, Slovenia,

Staffing weighted 95% unweighted 95%

100

100% Recruitment procedures for senior academic staff

Recruitments are carried out freely by universities

100

100% Recruitment procedures for senior administrative staff

Recruitments are carried out freely by universities

100

100% Salaries for senior academic staff

Universities can freely decide on staff salaries

This applies to 4 other countries: Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg, Sweden,

100

100% Salaries for senior administrative staff

Universities can freely decide on staff salaries

This applies to 5 other countries: Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Sweden, United Kingdom

80

80% Dismissal of senior academic staff

There are no sector-specific regulations concerning dismissals (national labour regulations apply)

This applies to 8 other countries: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Sweden, United Kingdom

Dismissals are subject to other regulations specific to the sector

This applies to 8 other countries: Austria, Croatia, Flanders, Ireland, The Netherlands, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia,

80

80% Dismissal of senior administrative staff

There are no sector-specific regulations concerning dismissals (national labour regulations apply)

Dismissals are subject to other regulations specific to the sector

This applies to 5 other countries: Austria, Flanders, Ireland, The Netherlands, Slovakia,

100

100% Promotion procedures for senior academic staff

Universities can freely decide on promotion procedures

100

100% Promotion procedures for senior administrative staff

Universities can freely decide on promotion procedures

Academic weighted 72% unweighted 75%

0

0% Overall student numbers

Free admission

This applies to 5 other countries: Austria, Flanders, France, Wallonia, The Netherlands,

0

0% Admissions procedures at Bachelor level

Admissions are entirely regulated by an external authority

This applies to 7 other countries: Austria, Flanders, France, Wallonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovenia,

0

0% Admissions procedures at Master's level

Admissions are entirely regulated by an external authority

This applies to one other country: Wallonia

100

100% Introduction of programmes at Bachelor level

Universities can open degree programmes without prior accreditation

This applies to 7 other countries: Austria, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Sweden, United Kingdom

100

100% Introduction of programmes at Master's level

Universities can open degree programmes without prior accreditation

This applies to 7 other countries: Austria, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Sweden, United Kingdom

100

100% Introduction of programmes at doctoral level

Universities can open degree programmes without prior accreditation

100

100% Termination of degree programmes

Universities can terminate degree programmes independently

100

100% Language of instruction at Bachelor level

Universities can choose the language of instruction for all programmes

100

100% Language of instruction at Master's level

Universities can choose the language of instruction for all programmes

100

100% Selection of quality assurance mechanisms

Universities cannot select quality assurance mechanisms

100

100% Selection of quality assurance providers

Universities can choose the quality assurance agency freely according to their needs (including agencies from other countries)

This applies to 7 other countries: Austria, Brandenburg, Estonia, Finland, Hesse, Hungary, North Rhine-Westphalia,

100

100% Capacity to design content of degree programmes

Universities can freely design the content of degree programmes and courses (other than for the regulated professions)