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Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

By Sabine Hutcheson

In the wake of travel restrictions and uncertainty linked to a now two-year long pandemic, international families settled in the Geneva area may have come to question how far they are willing to send their children to university. Amongst the expat community and the international schools of Geneva, Switzerland did not feature high as a choice for university destination compared to the UK and North America. However, Swiss universities have become an increasingly attractive prospect. 

With 7 of the 12 Swiss public universities ranking in the world top 100, the case for an academic choice with real prospects of employment is obvious. Moreover, the mere CHF 1000.- annual fee makes one wonder about the post-Brexit cost of UK universities, especially for institutions that do not even make the top 200. Fees for EU/CH residents, which used to be around £9,000 annually now range from £15,000 to £40,000. Yet there hasn’t been a significant surge in applications at local public universities. So what’s the catch?

Language can clearly be a barrier. Anglophone students who have not had the chance to learn French will struggle to reach the required B2 level for entry at university. Language learning and integration is, therefore, something to factor in for newly arrived families, as early as possible in a child’s life. Public schools in Geneva and Vaud present a complex structure of a variety of academic levels which can seem daunting but once in the system, there are many possible routes towards higher education, including via vocational training. For students who arrived in the area in their teens, an emerging number of courses are available in English, such as the Bachelor’s in Economics and Management at the University of Geneva or the Bachelor’s in International Business at the Haute Ecole de Gestion. The International University in Geneva offers many English-speaking possibilities.

The crux of the matter in being admitted to a Swiss university lies in the choice of subjects one made at secondary school. Switzerland is rather protective of its training opportunities and imposes constraints on foreign diplomas to replicate the general knowledge acquired in Swiss high school. This means that, whatever course one applies for at the University of Geneva for example, from Medieval Literature to Sociology, your high school diploma must include Maths and/or a science (admissions criteria vary slightly in that regard depending on the diploma and the university). This constraint could particularly jeopardise chances of admission for students who have followed the French Baccalaureate or British A-Level programme. Indeed, these do offer the ‘chance’ to students to drop mathematics and science altogether

It is, therefore, crucial for families to familiarise themselves with Swiss universities’ admissions requirements early on in their children’s school career in order to make choices that will keep their options open. So the cost of Swiss universities is not a financial one but one of careful planning over time and a great deal of effort at school. For those who do not have a natural flair for maths and sciences, remember the words of Debbie Allen of the 1980s TV series ‘Fame’: you will pay in sweat!

More information on admission requirements for different high school diplomas can be found here.


Author bio

sabine hutcheson bioSabine Hutcheson is an education professional with over twenty years’ experience in teaching and leadership in schools in Switzerland, UK and neighbouring France. Her roles in the last 10 years have included academic director, education consultant, university and careers advisor, exams officer and deputy principal at the British School of Geneva. She is currently focusing on writing, both fiction and non-fiction.