Study in Switzerland

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Swiss universities are renowned for excellence in education and research and when you couple this with relatively low tuition fees, studying for a degree in Switzerland becomes a very smart move...

A popular choice for students and graduates wanting to study abroad, Switzerland is a small country located in Western Europe.

Thanks to the multilingual Swiss population it's a great place to study if you want to pick up a second language. Depending on where you study you could get to grips with German, French, Italian or Romansh. Each linguistic area has its own institutions, traditions and cultures so do your research before you go.

The famous Alps dominate 60% of the country but the beautiful scenery isn't all that's on offer. In the summer you'll be able to enjoy arts and music festivals in Swiss meadows and fields while in the chillier months you'll have the opportunity to participate in some winter sports such as skiing (of course), ice-hockey and skating.

The Swiss education system

Tertiary education in Switzerland is a duel system comprising the higher education sector and the professional education and training sector (PET).

The higher education sector is made up of:

  • Cantonal universities - of which there are ten. The word canton derives from the French word for district, and there are 26 different cantons in Switzerland. Each canton has its own laws, courts and governments.
  • Federal institutes of technology- there are two of these in Switzerland: Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zurich and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).
  • Universities of Applied Sciences - offer practical education and vocational training in areas such as business, engineering, IT, health and social care to name a few.
  • Universities of teacher education - provide education, training and research opportunities to future education professionals.

The PET sector enables professionals who have already completed vocational training to further enhance their skills.

Due to the requirements of the Bologna Process, institutions in Switzerland now generally follow the cycle of:

  • Bachelors degrees;
  • Masters degrees;
  • Doctoral (PhD) degrees.

Three Swiss universities currently feature in the top 100 of The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2013-2014:

  • at number 14 is ETH Zurich;
  • EPFL is 37th on the list;
  • and the University of Basel features at number 74.

Entry requirements

Bachelor programmes are open to foreign students who are in possession of a secondary/high-school-leaving certificate, although the decision of admission rests with the individual institutions.

When applying for a Masters programme, you will need to present your completed undergraduate degree. Swiss universities offer MAs in the arts, engineering, law, medicine and science to mention a selection. Entry requirements vary for each university, so make sure you contact institutions directly to ensure your application is correct.

If you'd like to study for a PhD in Switzerland you'll need a Masters degree from an accredited or recognised university. Again, entry conditions vary so it would be wise to check with your prospective institution.

As Switzerland is a multilingual country, the languages spoken at universities will differ. The majority of the country speaks German, but French is used in the West of the country, Italian in some areas in the South and Romansh is also spoken by a small minority. However, at Masters level an increasing number of study programmes are avilable in English.

To help explain which languages are spoken where see the Swiss University - Interactive Map.

Course fees

European Union (EU) citizens are entitled to attend a university in Switzerland, even though it is not currently a member of the EU.

Swiss tuition fees are relatively low due to universities being funded by both federal and cantonal governments. However, in Switzerland, 7 out of the 12 higher education institutes require non-Swiss students to pay additional fees. For example, the Università della Svizzera Italiana requires foreign students to pay double that of Swiss nationals.

To see an up-to-date list of all the current university fees, go to Swiss University - Grants, Scholarships and Fees at Swiss Universities.

Funding to study in Switzerland

The Swiss government does not offer scholarships to students who are from the UK.

If you are from another country, then you may be eligible for a government scholarship. Check to see if your country of origin is eligible by visiting State Secretariat for Education and Research (SER) - Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships.

To find out if particular universities offer scholarships to international students check individual institutions website.

Swiss exchanges and placements

Students attending UK universities can take part in the EU's education, training and youth support programme Erasmus+. The scheme replaces its predecessor 'Erasmus' and offers study, training, work experience and voluntary placements to millions of young people, students and adults.

Financial support is available through the Erasmus+ initiative to any UK public, private or not-for-profit organisation actively involved in education and training.

Your university must have a formal agreement with a partner university Switzerland. Check that your university is involved in the programme and offers the Erasmus+ scheme in your subject.

It isn't always necessary to speak the language of your host university but it is, of course, very useful. Speak to the Erasmus+ coordinator at your university about available opportunities.

Student visas

Students from the EU must register with the Residents' Registration Office of the relevant local authority within 14 days of arrival in Switzerland and apply for a residents' permit. Students will then need to produce:

  • a valid passport;
  • proof of university registration;
  • a bank statement to provide evidence of funds;
  • proof of address;
  • passport photographs.

Health insurance is mandatory for everyone living in Switzerland. If you intend to live in Switzerland for longer than three months then you must purchase your own health insurance. For more information, visit Swiss University - Immigration and Visa.