For many people the chance of studying abroad is an enticing prospect. Former foreign students at Swiss universities share their experiences with swissinfo.ch, listing the pros and cons of taking courses in Switzerland.
Some Swiss universities bend over backwards to attract the best minds from around the world, and the number of foreign students is rising. swissinfo.ch asked people who have attended Swiss universities for their views.
The vast majority of respondents were positive about their experience, praising the high standards of tuition, facilities and the welcome they received in Switzerland.
“My experience as a student over there was very rich,” said Indian national Deepa Mazumdar, who studied for a PhD in psychology at the University of Lausanne for three years. “Life was great in a country where I was respected as an Indian and never experienced racism. I felt very secure.”
Note to readers
These comments cannot be considered as representative of the entire body of foreign students. They were gathered through a Facebook request over the month of April. We wish to extend our thanks to those who participated.
“I studied in the university of St Gallen. I think it was one of the best experiences I had in my life,” commented Jose Bieri.
Most contributors thought that tuition fees were reasonable during their visit, but some pointed out that the high cost of living in Switzerland somewhat offset low study costs.
“If the cost of living and tuition fees are both taken into account, then studying in Switzerland is probably [just] as expensive as studying in the Netherlands or Germany,” observed Dutch national Maarten de Kruijf.
“Universities should allocate cheaper accommodation to students on lower incomes,” said Salamamma.
Unsurprisingly, the issue of tuition fees being raised only for foreigners, drew the most outspoken comments.
“Demanding higher fees for foreign students studying in Switzerland would only re-enforce the view of people that Switzerland is a ‘closed club for the rich’ and that Switzerland continues to be ruled by the xenophobia of its politicians,” said Lorraine.
“This fear of foreigners is so typical for the Swiss. It makes it very hard to study as a foreign student in Switzerland,” noted Axinia.
And finally, not everyone had a great experience from their studying stint in Switzerland, including Diego Zunino who was at Zurich’s Federal Institute of Technology.
“The environment of the students there was just terrible. I hated it. If you are not already embedded into the system there is no way to make friendships,“ he said.
Graduate of EHL.It was an enriching experience to study abroad and in a francophone society. International appeal; relatively dafe, picturesque, but expensive.Comparing to Canadian educational instutuitions, I cannot say that it is worth to go abroad to Switaerland to study, unless someone is specifically looking for that forgeign experience.
Wilson Raj, India
Hi There, Studying in Switzerland is a wonderful experience, The atmosphere and the people change the way you look at life. Only thing hard for a student is that its too expensive, Plus you cannot work part time. Its a huge burden on the pockets so many students would prefer to go to Australi & Canada instead since there is a chance to immigrate as well.Overall my experience studing in Swiss was excellent and would love my kids to do the same.ChoosWilson
I studied at the University of Fribourg for 12 months. What I loved most about the University (and what we don't have at our universities here in Australia) were all of the free activities which were available for students, such as dance classes, sporting teams and health & fitness classes. I loved attending a smaller university (in a town MUCH smaller than Sydney). I found the classes to be of a good size and the academics to be very approachable, and was able to understand them quite well (especially not being a native French speaker). On that note, I also loved all of the programs which were offered by UNIFR and and ESN. The classes in Switzerland were extremely affordable - about half the price of tuition fees in Australia. I think Switzerland has a good reputation for being a very productive society and it always looks great on a resume to show that I studied there. Living in a town which was bilingual is always a good talking point with employers, particularly here in Australia. I feel that Switzerland looks after its international students WAY better than Australia looks after theirs, and I think it makes it an attractive country to study in.
Danish Aziz, India
I had a great experience for the short 2 week course on Disaster Risk Reduction at EPFL Lausanne. I was amazed at the professionalism and dedication of the faculty and the warm hospitality of the hosts. It was an experience of a lifetime. Would love to return the favour someday and perhaps even go back again!
I studied in Basel. The study was very good but that small but fine university is just not built for so many students. Also, I wouldn't recommend Switzerland to any germans, the antipathy against germans is strong, not at university itself, but among the "simple" folks. I lived for a long time in Switzerland (due to my parents who moved there), but after a while I couldn't stand it anymore and left to a more open and welcoming place, to Berlin.
Maarten de Kruijf, Netherlands
I've studied at the ETH zurich and found that the education was of a very high standard. There were far more facilities in terms of personel and equipment. The overall ambiance was very international which is in my view a good thing. I visited the ETH as part of an Erasmus programm which meant I did not have to pay tuition fees. But I know what the tuition fees are for regular foreign students and I think it's very low compared to other European countries and especially the UK and the US. I think that raising the tuition fees would be justified on the account that the quality of the education is very high in Switzerland. However the high cost of living in Switzerland will also have a discouraging effect on foreign student. If the cost of living and tuition fees are both taken in to account then studying in Switzerland is probably as expensive as studying in the Netherlands or Germany.
Yann Fontaine, France Metropolitan
Switzerland is attractive for students: quality of life is very good as well as the quality of education (with good reputation).Several languages are spoken in Switzerland which constitute an asset for students willing to work worldwide. Concerning my personal experience, I quit my University in France after I suffered 3 blockades in 3 years. I expected public universities in Switzerland to be less troubled. Finally I do not think foreign students should pay more: students mobility is a good way to build good relations between countries. And it is already difficult financially to study in Switzerland, more for foreigners than for locals. Increasing fees would only make integration more difficult.Regards,
I studied at the University of Berne for one year to obtain an LL.M.-degree. The conditions were not any different than those I had experienced from German Universities before. They were totally fine, teachers were super competent. But I don't think it's reasonable to expect foreign students to pay a higher fee than locals. First of all: Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries to live in; a lot of students from abroad struggle already in nowadays to afford studying in Switzerland. Second: The standard is not higher thus it would not justify any higher fees; as a German lawyer I even have to say that way better grades were easily given to students for less difficult exams than I had experienced before at my German University.Third: Demanding higher fees for foreign students for studying in Switzerland would only inforce the view of people coming from abroad that Switzerland is a "closed club for the rich" and that Switzerland continues to be ruled by the xenophobia of its politicians.All in all I have to say that I left Switzerland with a more positive view of how swiss people are. Before, it was more a "forced" decision to study in Switzerland which I luckily do not regret at all from my point of view now.
Sarit Guha Thakurta, India
Quality of education is excellent and the interaction with fellow students from across the globe exposes one to views from all over. The faculty also are very approachable. I was a scholarship student and exempt from tuition fees so can't comment on the affordability. All I can say is that I was fortunate to have got the opportunity to study at ETH
To my opinion in comparison to other european countries, the quality offered by swiss universities is quite high. In the same time the students are required to work intensely and the amount of stress resulting out of this is very high. Only a certain kind of students succeed in this system. The selection resulting out of this situation reduces the number of students that don't suit the system, independently of wether they are foreigners or swiss. The fees are affordable. I don't think that foreigners should pay more than swiss students. To my impression the requirements of admission to the universities are higher to foreign students than to swiss. As a result the quality of the education rises with a higher amount of foreign students. This is a certain advantage to the educational system and swiss students have a big profit out of it.
it is reasonable to expect foreign students to pay more than locals, but I think it should be better to have more accommodations for foreign student especially in Zürich. Actually the fee for one year are much lower than the monthly budget, even if they would double they will not be an important amount for the annual budget.Universities anyhow should allocate cheaper accommodations to the students with lower income and not to the students whom come from a further country.
Amy Bohren, Australia
I had a worthwhile and interesting experience as a Bundesstipendiatin in Switzerland. I would suggest, however, that international students would expect more developed student services in Switzerland if they were paying higher fees. Many universities in other countries offer intensive services, such as career advice, which is only just beginning in Switzerland.
Bronwyn Ellens, Australia
I studied at your Hotel School in Lausanne and I paid twice the fees the Swiss students paid and with a rapidly declining Australian dollar back in the mid 70's. Also I was funding this myself with no assistance from my own country and I paid full fares on publice transport etc... so I don't think Switzerland was generous to me. However generally I made the most of my time in Europe and have returned on holidays a no. of times.
chris cavigioli, United States
I did my junior year abroad at the ETH in Zurich. I am a bit of a special case, because most of my relatives live in Switzerland and this was a chance for me to get back to Switzerland and have some fun while also completing my junior year of engineering education. I did not see any fees because I paid for my school year at my USA university (WPI) and that cost certainly outweighed the actual cost to study in Switzerland dramatically. I woudl have actually preferred to NOT pay my USA fees and instead pay the much lower CH fees.
Cristina Limido, Spain
I attended the ETI (Ecole de Traduction et d'Interprétation) from 1979 through 1984. Although I loved studying and living in Geneva (I even have now a house in Crans Montana), the truth is that I was very disappointed about my "university" experience. The ETI was, at that time, everything except a conventional university! Main courses were held in their own building, which looked more like an office building than like a university. Only two courses, Economy and Law, were (happily!) held at the university premises located in Uni Bastions... those were the only times I felt I was a university student! However, ETI was a great school with an amazing reputation worldwide.Cristina Limido
johny bock de pombo, Colombia
I studied in Switzerland in the Institut-Rosenberg for the Matura than in 1966 I went to the ETH ZURICH for Civil Engineer/ Hydraulic and I follow some courses in the St.Gallen Hochschule. On my time the reason to study in Switzerland, were: highest world quality/several languages/international students and security!
Having been a Belgian student who studied at the 2 two main university's in Belgium, and who went on an exchange program to study "gestion d'entreprise" at the university of Neuchâtel, I think I'm in a good position to answer some of these questions. Compared to Belgian university, I think the smaller size of the university as well as contact between students and teachers are absolutely great. Also the fact that several teachers had years of actual experience in the field they are teaching is a plus. I found however that the system where you can spread your credits over several years leads to some kind of laziness. I remember doing a full year of credits (which is standard in Belgium) and everybody thought it madness to do some much at once. Standards are difficult to assess. I thought Swiss university was a lot "easier" in terms of studying. I had great results but had to do far less then what I would have to in Belgium (I think I had to study about 40% less then in Belgium). However, what you need to study is very different. In Neuchâtel, understanding what you learn and applying it was a lot more important then gathering large quantities of knowledge. In Belgian university focus is on gathering as much as theoretical knowledge as possible. Practicality of the knowledge isn't a focus. As such I think the main difference was that in Switserland I had to study "less" in quantity, but I needed more in depth knowledge, as for in Belgium, main focus was the quantity of theoretical knowledge and applying this theoretical knowledge to theoretical cases. As for charging foreign students more, I think that this shouldn't apply for exchange students, but I think it's something to consider. Instead of just charging more, I think it's better to work with 2 possibilities. or you pay more, or you agree to some kind of pay back system by agreeing to work a few years in Switserland and pay some extra taxes. I also think that as a foreigner you should not be allowed to continue studying if you fail.
Jose Bieri , Mexico
I studied in the university of St Gallen, i think it was one of the best experience i have in my life. Swiss people are determinate, passionate and awesome. Teachers are 1st level in education, now im thinking of making my master in Switzerland, my only limitation are the living expences and house rental, to expensive compared to a country like mine
Barbara Whitaker, United States
I studied French language, literature, and culture at the Faculte des Lettres at Universite de Neuchatel from 1987-1990. I paid $1000 Sfr per year. Swiss nationals attended for free. I found this a very reasonable tuition. I arrived speaking no French and became fluent in one year. 25 years later I still can speak at an expert level. Thank you Anna-Marie Wandoch, Pierre-Yves Lambert, Mr. Eigledinger, Madame Brunko, Mr. Zeigler, and all the other professors who taught me!
gary mendelow, United States
I studied Medicine at the University of Basel from 1960( including undergraduate courses) to 1970. I lived in Basel for ten years and thoroughly enjoyed my experience. I am also a member of the University of Basel Medical Alumni Association. The Swiss were really great to me.
Deepa Mazumdar, India
I am a Ph.D in Psychology from UNIL. My experience as a student over there is very rich. We were given the freedom to think and reason. I remember prof. Dupont saying to a student concerning her poor marks "I know what I have told you, I also want to learn from you" great saying from a great teacher. My time fees was little higher than the local, but it did not hurt compared to the money earned as a student. Life was great, a country where I was respected as an Indian and never experienced racism, felt very secured.
Marianna R Steriadis, United States
I attended Université de Lausanne during a cours de vacances and absolutely loved it! Switzerland is such a beautiful country...I learned to speak better French (la suisse romande) and all about Swiss government. I had studied at Yale University here in America, a top tier school, and also Brown University for my Master's Degree. One of my professors recommended your program which was academically rigorous, plus I met other foreign students from all over the world.
This fear of foreigners is so typical for the swiss. It makes it very hard to study as a foreign student in Switzerland.Switzerland has nothing special to offer in comparison to Austria or Germany, so to be competitive for international studenst, not the fees/program or the quality of the education has to change, it is the attitude.Regards, Axinia
I worked on a PhD at EPFL, finished in 2005. Professors in Switzerland try allways but find difficult to hire Swiss people for PhD stage. In this case foreign students are more than an option. Also, foreign PhD students add exchange of knowledge with other countries and universities and I think are essential for the long term projects. Graduate studies in ch migth present a complete different scenario, this I cannot tell !
I spent 5 years studying in CH (3 in Lugano @USI and 2 at HEC Lausanne).I think the quality of the Swiss university is really good and Professors are usually spured to have good and smart relationships with the students (that is to say, incentive research debates comments and so on). Moreover the international environment is a great plus.The biggest issue is that CH university is very job-oriented (at least in economics) and makes very diffucult for students to start a PhD abroad after, if the PhD is not a pure quantitative one.About the taxes: no, should not increase. It is true that now are lower even compared to the Italian ones (a Master in Italy costs around 2000€/year - 2500CHF/year) BUT the cost of living is amazing high, for Germans as well! So, with higher taxes CH would lose a lot of smart brains AND/OR would staedly incentive non-regular house contracts or other bad practices.
I spent 5 years studying in CH (3 in Lugano @USI and 2 at HEC Lausanne).I think the quality of the Swiss university is really good and Professors are usually spured to have good and smart relationships with the students (that is to say, incentive research debates comments and so on). Moreover the international environment is a great plus.The biggest issue is that CH university is very job-oriented (at least in economics) and makes very diffucult for students to start a PhD abroad after, if the PhD is not a pure quantitative one.About the taxes: no, should not increase. It is true that now are lower even compared to the Italian ones (a Master in Italy costs around 2000€/year - 2500CHF/year) BUT the cost of living is amazing high, for Germans as well! So, with higher taxes CH would lose a lot of smart brains AND/OR would staedly incentive non-regular house contracts or other bad practices.Thank you for your job, a very useful one. I hope you found my lines interesting.Best,Alessandro N.
Rob L, United States
I spent four months in school at Webster University in Geneva, Switzerland during 2010. The first thing that stands out is the ability of riding a train to school rather than driving. For 2 months I lived north of Webster in Versoix, and the following to months I spent living on the south part of downtown Geneva. I really liked the idea of traveling to class via train rather than walking from dorms or driving from an apartment. Traveling by train allowed me to read, study, or maybe catch an extra couple of Z's before arriving to class. Webster University's campus in Geneva was small, but I rather enjoyed that because it made meeting new people and feeling welcome in the community much more easier. The staff and student orientation leaders were excellent at making the foreign students immediately upon arrival feel like a part of the school. Another one of my favorite things about living in Geneva, Switzerland was the fact that it is a central location to many great cities and countries in Europe. Having the opportunity to travel to France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece and other beautiful countries was the top deciding-factor when it came to choosing Webster's Geneva campus rather than other campuses. I would be disappointed to see the expenses of Swiss tuition rise simply to discourage foreign students from attending. Part of the reason I enjoyed myself so much was that I met new friends from all over the world: China, Pakistan, Mexico, Spain, Russia, and Germany to name a few. Had I been forced to pay higher tuition fees I may not have met such great and exciting people and therefore may have had less fun on the trip. It would be ashame to watch the tuition fees in such a beautiful and attractive country rise to force foreign students to choose other countries to study.
Martin Forst, Germany
When I studied in Switzerland between 1997 and 2001, the fees were affordable, the student-teacher/professor ratio was excellent, the facilities were very good, and I just enjoyed the very cosmopolitan, yet well-rooted character of the Lake Geneva region. For me, in hindsight, it was a definite plus to study in a foreign language (French - my native language being German) and I received a very solid undergraduate education. For what I chose as a specialty over the course of my studies, the University of Lausanne was not the right place, though, which is why I returned to Germany. (The University of Zurich and the University of Geneva might have been interesting alternatives to the University of Stuttgart, but Stuttgart offered me the best opportunity at the time.)
I really wanteed to study in Switzerland because it has good universities and the teachers are well educated and very proffessional. Life is awesome, a little expensive but transportation is always on time and people is very kind. The views are so beautiful;weather is a little extreme but it is fine to me. I loved living my experience in Switzerland although I believe that without my scholarship I could not pay the fee.
Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne - maybe not a university but I paid a lot to studie there for 3½ years. And I thought I paid more than my swiss classmates.I came to Switzerland as there was no hotel education at that leavel in Sweden at the time (1985).We have this discussion in Sweden. The education at university is free of charge in Sweden and has been so also for foreign students. But recently this has changed and non-swedish residents has to pay. This has reduced the number of students. Now there are certain universities that do not have enough students to continue with all different courses. I do still think it is an advantage for any student to at least part of their education in an other country. And I encourage my students today to do so.
Studying in a Swiss university offers a chance for people interested in pursuing languages to practice already existing skills, or pick up new ones due to the 4 national languages spoken there. My exchange was for linguistic purposes, and as a result I am now fully fluent in French. However this is not all I gained from this opportunity; I was able to take courses not offered in my home university, and learn about European integration and its issues from the perspective of a neutral country. I did not have to pay Swiss fees because of the bilateral exchange agreement by York University and the Université de Lausanne, however I agree that it is acceptable for international students to pay higher fees, especially if it takes away a spot for a domestic student. I would be prepared to pay the augmented fees if I came as a full-time international undergraduate or masters student. It is important to promote the education of a country's own population while maintaining a healthy balance of diversity attained through attracting international students.
I've studied Romance Languages and Literatures in ZH. The main reason to study them in ZH was, that the lessons are taught in the respective language: French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Rumantsch. The whole infrastructure is excellent (access to Libraries etc.). The education is very high standard compared to other EU countries I've visited. The fees were affordable - a bit higher for the foreign students when I studied there (in the late Eighties- early Nineties).
I believe that Switzerland is a great place to study and am so thankful for my opportunity to have studied there. Switzerland has a great reputation (strong economy, good schools, great transit, beautiful countryside/food/cities/etc.), which likely explains why so many people wish to study there. The standard of education did match up to expectations. I participated in an exchange program with my university, and I don't think it would be fair to charge foreign students more because Swiss students who study in Canada (on exchange to my university - so this is relating to an exchange program scenario) do not pay anything extra to study there - it's an agreement between the schools. If I had to pay extra to go to Switzerland for the semester in terms of fees, I would have gone somewhere else because many other universities don't require exchange students to pay extra for course fees. I think if foreign students had to pay significantly more to study in Swizterland, the demand to do so would go down significantly given the bounty of other available options.
Egle Conforto, France
I got my PhD at EPFL and I worked there for some years more after it. This was mutually benefitial, for EPFL and for me. This experience was very important for my career and I published many scientific articles under the name of EPFL. It is important for Swiss universities to remain opened to talented and motivated foreign students.
Jonathan, United States
I am very thankful for the excellent university education that I received in Switzerland. I believe that the quality of the education is comparable to any American university, and is provided at a fraction of the cost. Despite their academic reputation, American universities have unfortunately become multi-million dollar businesses. The Swiss state-funded education system is a pragmatic solution to providing qualified students a quality education, regardless of their financial status. Whether or not the Swiss people decide to continue extending foreigners the same opportunity is up to them. From an economic point of view, it does not make much sense to invest in education for foreigners if they are not eligible to enter the Swiss labor market upon completion of their studies.
Andrew Lally, Ireland
I did an ERASMUS exchange with the University of Geneva Ecole de traduction et d interpretation for 5 months in 2001. It was then I realised that standards in my university, Dublin City University, were far lower than in Unige and that students in Unige had a much better choice of course content and much higher standards to achieve. Having said that two of my lecturers, a Scot and a Canadian, were horrible people and had no people skills and picked their favourites early on. Another was a lovely Swiss German lady and her lectures were fascinating and educational. For ERASMUS students there is a problem matching up the different levels that students in different universities find themselves at. A third year student in Ireland might only be able for first year in Switzerland, etc. The cost of accommodation was exhorbitant and that led me to pick a dissatisfactory student room. Overall my experience was a positive one and I built up a love for Switzerland that I did not have before I went and I am certain I bring a Swiss manner of doing things back to Ireland. It would be a shame if other students did not benefit from similar experiences. Parliament could choose to charge foreign students more, but there is a hidden cost of less exposure to and understanding of Switzerland if less students can afford to go to Switzerland. Allies are important things to have and I am an ally of Switzerland, something I would not be if I had not the opportunity to study there. Reflect carefully on unintended consequences.
I lived in Switzerland for around 3 years, and of the 3 years, I was in a university for two of the years (EPFL). I think the rates were pretty good and affordable. The education was ok. I would give it a 6-7/10. I think the Swiss system tries to teach you a lot of stuff too quickly, without letting you absorb and explore too much.On the international side, I believe that Swiss universities need to be a bit more international friendly.
Yana , Russian Federation
I had a chance to spend some time in Switzerland studying in University of St.Gallen. It was great personal and educational experience. Many Swiss universities are recognized as the best in class and the University where I have studied became first in Europe in business education. Thereby the quality of teaching is on a very high level as well as requirements for students. Thus, youngers going to Switzerland for study should be prepared to hard work. Another point to mention is the language. Almost everyone speaks English (not only at school), so day to day life there is comfortable and easy even without speaking local language. Living expenses are pretty high, and in most cases highest in Europe, so better to think about it far in advance. As for the cultural background I can say that this country is one of the most diverse and interesting. Switzerland is like a colorful mosaic: it consists of various parts. Italian, French and German regions are quite different, but they perfectly complement each other, forming a whole picture. I was amazed by local hospitality, friendliness and politeness with which people host guests. Main attractions in Switzerland are well-known beautiful ski resorts, lakes and castles. The nature is amazing, People often do backpacking and hiking, so travelling infrastructure and services well developed all over the country. Moreover, they offer student offers and discounts that make life easier. In general, my Swiss experience was unforgettable. It gave me not just a strong educational background that is recognized globally, but also contributed a lot to my personal development and cultural awareness.