Switzerland Higher Education: PET

The Professional Education and Training (PET) system, meanwhile, is the higher education component of the B-level track. The PET system aims to supplement the skills of working professionals in order to excel in a challenging position. Two types of degrees are awarded by the PET institutions: examination-based degrees and PET college degrees [5].  The Federal PET degree (FP) is designed to enable the degree holder to fulfill all of the responsibility of a challenging position. According to Dr. Scharnhorst, the Advanced Federal PET degree (AFP) was traditionally designed to enable the degree holder to successfully run a small to medium sized business in that field. Nonetheless, the degree now represents a varying level of specialization across fields. A PET college degree is obtained by enrolling in a federally recognized program, while the FP and AFP degrees are obtained by passing the federally regulated test [6].

The Federal Office for Professional and Educational Training (OPET) oversees the degree creation and sets policies for PET testing. PET degrees are awarded based upon the results of these nationally regulated tests. OPET can authorize only one FP and one AFP degree per specialized field. If such a degree does not already exist, a group of sponsors must submit a proposal to OPET for approval [6].  Their proposal must meet several guidelines. The degree must serve a market need. These tests cannot show any bias toward a specific company or product. For example, instead of testing skills related to Autodesk’s Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) software, the test would measure skills relevant in any brand of CAD software. Professional organizations, such as IEEE in the field of electrical engineering, in conjunction with OPET ensure the tests accurately test the desired skills and outcomes. The degree must also signify in its holders a set of competencies that will enable them to excel in their profession.

These tests are developed by a specific process. First, a large set of professionals in the field are called to brainstorm every situation that they encounter during their professional duties. Next, these “professional situations” are combined into a small number of groups. For each of these groups, professional competencies and skills are identified. The test is then developed to specifically measure these relevant competencies. The sponsoring group must provide a document covering specific information about the degree and test. An example of this document by the Swiss Health Quality Association for a pharmacology specialist, although in German, can be read for information about the length and contents of each portion of the seven hour qualifying examination [7]. Finally, the information must be submitted to OPET for approval.

Since the degree is based upon the final test, it is not necessary to enroll in a preparation program. A large majority of PET students do utilize these programs, even though institutions which provide the preparatory programs for the tests are not regulated. Programs are often run by private organizations and funded through fees paid by the students and businesses [5]. Often, a business will invest heavily in an employee’s PET education by paying half of the tuition, giving the employee time off to take tests, and other such ways in exchange for an agreement for continued employment for several years after the completion of the degree. This method of funding stands in contrast with the university funding, which is largely based upon public funding from the cantons and confederations.

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