Postgraduate Study in Switzerland

Switzerland is located in western Europe and is completely landlocked, sharing borders with Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein.

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It covers an area of over 40,000 km2 and has a population of approximately 8 million people. Much of its land area is covered by the Alps (a large mountain range) however its population is mostly found on the lower land known as the Swiss Plateau. This is where the larger cities are based, including the capital city - Bern. The largest city in Switzerland is Zurich which has been ranked as the city with the second highest quality of life in the world!

Interestingly, Switzerland has three defined linguistic and cultural regions, these are German, French and Italian – so these languages are all official languages in Switzerland, along with the lesser known Romansh. The currency is Swiss Francs (abbreviated to CHF) and the conversion rate is currently around CHF1.2 to a Euro.

Switzerland: an Overview

Switzerland is renowned for being neutral in terms of international and political conflict, and in fact it hasn’t been involved in an international war since 1815. Switzerland joined the UN in 2002 and is a founding member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) although it isn’t part of the EU or the EEA.

Studying in Switzerland: Swiss Universities and Education

Perhaps as a reflection of its diverse history, cultures and languages, the Swiss education system also offers quite a variety of options, although as a constant it does provide a consistently high standard, achieving top worldwide rankings. There are 12 state-run institutions, Cantonal Universities – of which there are 10 – and two Federal Institutes of Technology. Then there are the Universities of Applied Sciences, Universities of Teacher Education, and the Accredited Swiss Higher Education Institutions.

To appeal more to the international student market, Switzerland is continually adapting its education system and forging partnerships with other European countries.

There is a reasonably high proportion of foreign students at Swiss universities – they make up 21% of the bachelor’s and master’s students, and 53.6% of the PhD students. Overall there are 117,000 students attending a degree program at a Swiss university.

Masters degree programs

Depending on the field of study, a masters degree programme will last 3-4 semesters. In order for a student to do a master’s degree at a Swiss university they must have already obtained a bachelors degree. The individual universities can make their own decision with regards as to whether a bachelors degree acquired in another country gives its holder access to one of their masters degree programs. It is also up to the individual universities to decide what level of bachelors degree the student needs to have obtained - although a 2:1 is the norm.

PhDs

A PhD or doctorate takes 3-5 years of postgraduate research and study. To be able to study a doctoral program at a Swiss university the student will need to have completed a masters program and obtained a high grade. In Switzerland only the twelve state-run universities are allowed to award a doctoral degree – this being one of the 10 cantonal universities or the two Federal Institutes of Technology.

Language Requirements

Because of its distinct language regions, the different universities on Switzerland teach their degree programs in different languages depending on their location. The Universities of Fribourg, Neuchâtel, Geneva and Lausanne, and the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, are based in the French-speaking part of Switzerland and therefore teach in French – although the University of Fribourg is Switzerland’s only bilingual university offering its curriculum in both French and German. The Universities of Basel, Bern, Lucerne, St Gallen, Zurich and the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich are all in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. While the Università della Svizzera italiana is located in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, therefore offering its programs in Italian. Degree programs at all Swiss universities are increasingly being offered in the English language – and to be selected for one of these programs students will need to demonstrate a sound understanding of the English language – maybe through TOEFL or IELTs scores, or an equivalent English language exam.

Switzerland: Tuition Fees and Funding

Switzerland: Tuition Fees and Funding The Swiss Government’s ongoing commitment to higher education in Switzerland means that the tuition fees are still relatively low. Tuition fees vary from institution to institution and between courses but in many cases there is little or no difference between the fees for a Swiss student and  those of an international student –  except in the University of Lugano where foreign students pay twice as much as home students! Some other universities add a supplementary cost to foreign students of between €300-€1,000 per year.

In general, however annual tuition fees for a masters degree program at a Swiss university start from around CHF1,000 (€830). There will also usually be an application fee of around CHF100-CHF150 (€83-€125).

Foreign Scholarships

The Swiss Government does offer a selection of scholarships to foreign students from both industrial and development countries. The best way to find out whether you’re entitled to one of these scholarships is to contact the Swiss consulate in your own country. In most cases to be eligible to apply for one of these state-funded scholarships the student must be under 35 years old.

Switzerland: Student Living in Switzerland

Although it is quite small, Switzerland is perfectly formed! It is a clean, beautiful country rich in scenery and economic growth! The universities offer first-class facilities and the cities offer a high standard of living and some great networking opportunities in the worlds of business and finance as well as research and development. It is a very international place to live and due to its multi-lingual slant, it offers a great environment in which to develop your language skills. It’s location in the heart of Western Europe also makes it a great place to be based to explore the rest of Europe.

As a student living in Switzerland you should budget for between CHF1,500-CHF2,500 (€1,250-€2,000) per month to live on (accommodation, travel, food etc) – this will obviously vary according to the location of the university.

Work

Students from EU/EFTA countries can work for a maximum of 15 hours per week without any additional permit for the entire period of their student permit.

Students from non-EU/EFTA countries are permitted to work part-time employment for a maximum of 15 hours per week, but only once they have lived in Switzerland for a minimum of 6 months. For the duration of their part-time employment they must maintain full-time student status and show regular progress in their studies. However if you are a master’s student and hold a bachelor’s degree from a non-Swiss university you do not need to wait for 6 months.

Third country nationals who earn a degree from a Swiss university can stay in the country after graduation for up to six months to seek permanent full-time employment. Non-EU/EFTA citizens will need to get a work permit before starting their job. To get a work permit your employer will submit an application to the relevant authority – please note that the application process can take up to several weeks.

Healthcare and Insurance

Health insurance is mandatory for all Swiss residents. If you are a foreign student and you are planning to be in Switzerland for more than three months you must get a health insurance policy. It is advisable to sort out private healthcare from your country of origin before arriving in Switzerland.

Switzerland: Visas and Immigration

Switzerland Student Visas and Immigration Students can come to Switzerland to study from overseas as either a regular student, an exchange student, or as a ‘free mover’. Regular students need to fulfil the necessary immigration requirements and these will differ depending on what country they are from. Exchange students are in Switzerland for a limited period only due to an agreement between their home institution and a Swiss institution – their degree is awarded by their home institution not the Swiss university. Free-movers also only study in Switzerland for a limited period of time (usually just a couple of semesters) and are not aiming for a degree. Regulations for free movers vary so check the Admissions department of your preferred Swiss institution for more information on this.

If you are coming to study a degree program in Switzerland you will need to apply for a residence permit, the application procedure is different for citizens of the EU (European Union) and EFTA (European Free Trade Association) than for people from other countries.

EU/EFTA nationals

If you are a student from a country in the EU or EFTA you must register with the Residents' Registration Office at your local authorities within 14 days of arriving in Switzerland and apply for a residence permit.

In order to do this you will require the following documentation:

1.    Valid passport or identity card.
2.     Proof of your university registration.
3.     Evidence of sufficient funds to cover your living costs for the duration of your studies.
4.    Proof of address at your Swiss residence.
5.    Completed application form for residence permit.
6.    Two passport-size photographs

Non-EU/EFTA nationals

If you are a student from a non-EU/EFTA country you must contact the Swiss Embassy or the Swiss consulate in your native country and apply for a visa before you come to Switzerland.

To apply for a visa you will need the following documentation:

1.    Valid passport or identity card.
2.     Proof of your university registration.
3.     Evidence of sufficient funds to cover your living costs for the duration of your studies.
4.    Proof of address at your Swiss residence.
5.    Completed application form for residence permit.
6.    Two passport-size photographs

This procedure can take several weeks, so it is recommended that you apply for your visa about three month before your degree program starts.

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