Federal Department of Home Affairs FDHA State Secretariat for Education and Research SER Directorate Hallwylstrasse 4, CH-3003 Bern www.eda.admin.ch Validity of degrees issued by private institutions in Switzerland Office circular 1.   While   higher   education   in   Switzerland   is   primarily   dispensed   by   public   institutions,   there   are   also   many private   ones.   Some   of   these   private   institutions   cater   primarily   to   Swiss   clients.   As   such,   they   are   part   of Switzerland's   public   higher   education   sector   and   therefore   receive   public   subsidies.   Other   private   institutions were   created   mainly   for   the   purpose   of   servicing   international   students   and   are   not   part   of   Switzerland's public   higher   education   sector.   Between   these   two   extremes,   there   are   situations   that   combine   both   realities where   the   same   institution   offers   separate   curricula   to   address   the   needs   of   both   the   Swiss   and   international markets. 2.   As   a   general   rule,   in   Switzerland   no   prior   authorisation   is   required   in   order   to   offer   higher   education courses,   organise   examinations   or   issue   private   degrees.   In   certain   cases,   however,   the   federal   or   cantonal authorities,   depending   on   their   respective   area   of   authority,   will   supervise   private   institutions   and/or   authorise them   to   offer   courses   and   issue   degrees.   This   supervision   means   that   private   institutions   are   required   to accept   a   certain   amount   of   public   control.   They   must   undergo   quality   inspections   if   they   wish   to   issue protected titles that will be recognised as such. Non protected titles are nevertheless common. 3.   Private   institutions   that   are   not   part   of   Switzerland's   public   higher   education   sector,   are   not   compatible with   it,   or   are   not   entirely   supervised   by   public   authorities   offer   a   different,   but   not   necessarily   lower,   level   of quality.   There   are   several   prestigious   private   institutions   that   are   entirely   independent   from   Switzerland's public   higher   education   sector.   Not   all   private   institutions   are   prestigious,   however.   Apart   from   particularly regulated   cases,   Swiss   tradition   has   been   to   allow   clients   or   the   labour   market   itself   to   decide   whether   a private   institution   offers   education   quality   rather   than   to   leave   this   decision   up   to   the   State.   In   keeping   with international   trends,   Switzerland   is   currently   introducing   accreditation   procedures   that   draw   no   distinction between   public   and   private   institutions.   Accreditation   attests   to   the   fact   that   the   public   authorities   have conducted   an   external   quality   inspection,   recognise   the   institutions   but   do   not   provide   them   with   public subsidies. 4.   A   coherent   accreditation   system   for   the   higher   education   sector   (i.e.   ISCED   tertiary-level   A)   has   not   yet been completely introduced in Switzerland: The   Confederation   fully   regulates   the   university   of   applied   sciences   (UAS)   sector,   which   includes   both public   and   private   institutions.   In   order   to   use   the   name   UAS   or   issue   UAS   Bachelor's   and   Master's degrees, the institution must be accredited by the Confederation. The   Confederation   (owner   of   Switzerland's   two   federal   institutes   of   technology,   the   ETH   in   Zurich   and the   EPF   in   Lausanne)   and   the   Cantons   (owners   of   public   cantonal   universities)   work   together   within   the Swiss   University   Conference   (SUK)   to   coordinate   the   public   higher   education   sector.   The   Cantons   are given   considerable   freedom   with   regard   the   private   universities   located   on   their   territory.   Some   Cantons have   established   procedures   that   enable   private   institutions   to   obtain   authorisation   to   use   a   given name.   This   is   done   for   the   sole   purpose   of   preventing   confusion   between   different   types   of   institutions and   in   no   way   constitutes   a   value   judgement.   Basing   itself   on   a   proposal   made   by   the   Center   of Accreditation   and   Quality   Assurance   of   the   Swiss   Universities   (OAQ),   the   SUK   decides   at   its   own discretion   whether   to   confer   accreditation   on   public   institutions,   private   institutions   or   their   individual degree programmes. Institutions   may   apply   for   accreditation   as   higher   education   institutions   (HEIs),   which   includes   the following    categories:    traditional    universities;    universities    of    applied    sciences;    teachers    colleges; institutions   within   the   HEI   sector   that   offer   only   Bachelor's   degree   programmes;   and   institutions   within the   HEI   sector   that   offer   only   continuing   education   and   training   (CET),   if   certain   minimum   requirements are met. Institutions    may    also    apply    for    accreditation    of    individual    Bachelor's    and/or    Master's    degree programmes.   Such   accreditation   is   only   possible   for   institutions   that   are   either   already   accredited   as HEIs   or   recognised   as   HEIs   by   virtue   of   the   Federal   Act   of   8   October   1999   on   University   Funding   and Cooperation (SR 414.20). The   Higher   Education   Bill   is   currently   being   examined   by   the   Federal   Parliament.   Among   other   things, this   new   Federal   Bill   provides   for   the   term   “higher   education”   to   be   used   only   by   public   or   private institutions   that   have   been   accredited   as   such   by   the   appropriate   national   authority.   Such   protection has   already   been   conferred   upon   the   term   “university   of   applied   sciences”.   As   in   the   past,   unaccredited institutions   will   remain   free   to   use   unprotected   terms   (e.g.   academy,   etc.).   The   Higher   Education   Bill   is not expected to come into effect before 2013. 5. As far as recognition of Swiss HEI qualifications are concerned: -   Federal   or   cantonal   legislation   determines   which   degrees   are   recognised   for   regulated   professions (e.g.   medical   practitioners,   lawyers,   etc.).   Generally   speaking,   only   HEIs   recognised   by   virtue   of   federal legislation    issue    such    degrees.    Only    in    very    rare    cases    (e.g.    theology)    are    degrees    for    regulated professions issued by private institutions. -   For   unregulated   professions   (e.g.   managers,   journalists,   etc.),   it   is   up   to   employers   to   decide   whether to    “recognise”    the    value    of    a    degree;    however,    these    degrees    have    more    weight    if    they    obtain accreditation or certification of quality issued by generally recognised private bodies. -   As   far   as   admission   to   a   higher   level   of   studies   is   concerned,   it   is   up   to   the   HEI   to   decide   whether   to recognise   the   value   of   the   prospective   student's   prior   qualifications.   As   with   the   recognition   of   foreign qualifications   from   countries   with   which   Switzerland   has   no   corresponding   international   agreement,   the HEI   relies   on   recommendations   made   by   Swiss   ENIC,   which   acts   under   a   mandate   from   the   State Secretariat for Education and Research (SER). 6.    Private    institutions    based    in    Switzerland    that    are    not    accredited    as    HEIs    by    the    Swiss    University Conference (SUK) may only issue private degrees. Such degrees: -   generally   do   not   confer   any   entitlement   upon   the   holder   to   gain   direct   access   to   a   higher   level   of studies within Switzerland's public higher education sector; - generally may not be used by the holder to carry out a profession that is regulated in Switzerland; - may be used by the holder to carry out an unregulated profession; appreciation of the value of private degrees is left up to employers. Generally   speaking,   there   are   no   international   agreements   protecting   the   value   of   private   degrees;   in   all cases,   it   is   up   to   the   national   authorities   in   the   host   country   to   decide   whether   to   recognise   foreign qualifications. Private   institutions   are   able   to   legitimately   carry   out   their   activities   in   Switzerland   by   virtue   of   the principle   of   economic   freedom.   They   may   also   use   a   name   that   is   not   subject   to   an   accreditation requirement   (e.g.   “university”   is   currently   used   freely   in   most   Cantons,   at   least   until   the   proposed Higher    Education    Act    comes    into    effect    in    2013).    However,    this    does    not    mean    that    the    Swiss authorities recognise the studies offered, nor the examinations passed nor the qualifications issued. 7.   Generally   speaking,   the   use   of   professional   names   and   titles   is   not   regulated.   The   Confederation   has adopted   provisions   aimed   at   protecting   certain   federally   recognised   titles   within   the   VET/PET   sector   as   well as   within   the   HEI   sector   (albeit   limited   to   titles   awarded   by   the   two   federal   institutes   of   technology   –   ETH Zurich   and   EPFL   –   and   all   public   and   private   universities   of   applied   sciences).   However,   there   are   no   federal legislative provisions prohibiting the private use of titles (i.e. for non-professional use). September 2010 State Secretariat for Education and Research SER
Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft Confédération suisse Confedrazione Svizzera Confederaziun svizra