Switzerland Higher Education: Structure

The Swiss higher education system consists of a dual-track system unique in the effectiveness of its implementation. The dual track splits in upper secondary school, so a discussion beginning of that level is useful in a higher education discussion. This initial split is between gymnasium, which focuses on a focused university preparatory curriculum of science or humanities, and vocational school. Gymnasium graduates may attend any university that they wish, while vocational graduates typically enter the workforce. Within the dual-track system at the higher education level, there are three main options, which are university, Universities of Applied Science (UAS), and Professional Educational and Training (PET). Universities train students in a theoretically focused three year study program for a bachelor’s degree, potentially followed by a research curriculum in a two year masters and a several year doctoral program. Universities of Applied Science are more practically-minded universities which require some work experience prior to acceptance. Professional Education and Training schools are independently run professional training schools which enhance professional skills in working professionals with several years of experience. The universities and UAS comprise the A-level track while the PET system comprises the B-level track in higher education.  

I. Vocational Education and Training (VET)

II. University of Applied Sciences (UAS)

III. Traditional Universities

IV. Professional Education and Training (PET) system

Crossover is possible, though relatively uncommon, across the A-level and B-level institutions within the Swiss higher education system. For example, a graduate of a UAS can continue to graduate studies in the premier universities, such as ETH Zurich. Approximately 4% of graduates of either type of A-level tertiary institution enter a PET program after they meet the required level of work experience, and while 9% PET graduates transfer into the A-level system in order to increase salary.5 Maintaining the variety of institutions while allowing for mobility within the system helps to provide Switzerland with its flexible and competitive labor market.

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