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Swiss universities still popular among international students despite pandemic

foreign students
International students represent around 50% of doctoral students at Swiss universities. Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

Federal statistics show that the number of international students heading to Swiss universities continues to rise despite the health crisis and associated travel restrictions. However, fewer are coming from outside Europe.  

At the start of the 2020 academic year, nearly 12,300 new international students enrolled in a higher education institution in Switzerland, according to annual data published by the Federal Statistical OfficeExternal link (FSO) on Tuesday.

This is a 4% increase compared to 2019, which is a less significant rise than in the few years prior. The average increase from 2017 to 2020 was around 13%. For 2021, initial estimates show similar trends.

While the numbers of foreign students continue to increase, their share of all new students remains relatively stable, writes the FSO. At the bachelor’s level they represent about 15% of new students compared to around 20% at the master’s level and nearly 50% at the doctoral level.

Although the pandemic doesn’t seem to have affected total numbers, there are some changes in the share of nationals from countries outside Europe. “Their number has slightly decreased in certain universities, but this decrease has often been offset by an increase in the number of students from a neighbouring country,” writes the FSO.

The large majority (two-thirds) came to Switzerland for the purpose of studying. Some 16% didn’t plan to study in Switzerland when they arrived here. This was more often the case among women who joined family members in the country (10% for women, compared to 3% for men).

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR