Universities: higher numbers of students due to corona

An empty "Polyterrasse", with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (front) and the University of Zurich (back), taken in April this year during the lockdown © Keystone / Christian Beutler

Swiss universities are expecting 10-15% more students than usual next semester due the coronavirus, it has been reported. There will be far fewer people taking a gap year.

This content was published on August 24, 2020 - 12:35

Swiss public television, SRFExternal link, puts the number at 10% in a report over the weekend.

The University of Zurich has confirmed that it has received 15% more student applications at Bachelors level and 25% more applications among Masters StudentsExternal link than in 2019. It still remains to be seen how many of these turn into matriculated students, this will be communicated during the autumn semester, university spokeswoman Rita Ziegler told via email on Monday.

"A possible reason for the increase in applications could be that the alternative options usually open to school leavers like a gap year, travelling or looking for a job are not possible or have become more complicated," Ziegler said.

"For those finishing their Bachelors, it has probably been harder to find a job, so they have decided instead to do a Masters."

Many school leavers in Switzerland traditionally take a year out after doing their pre-university baccalaureate exam (although many have not physically taken the exam this year due to the coronavirus lockdown and will be awarded their certificates based on teacher assessment).

Border restrictions to contain the coronavirus means that it is harder to go travelling. They usually fund these trips with student jobs, such as working in a bar or restaurant – but these have become rarer due to the financial effects of the virus, reports sayExternal link.


The expected rise in students is putting a strain on universities’ distancing concepts. The University of Basel has already reacted: two-thirds of students there will be doing distance-learning after the university starts lectures on September 14.

“For students this means that they will have to stay at home for a while and will have less social contact,” rector Andrea-Schenker-Wicki told SRFExternal link.

This is something the university regrets, she said. But she pointed out that university’s protection concept had been drawn up with the input of experts and the authorities and that the institution had invested more than CHF100,000 ($110,000) in new technology for the online teaching.


But the University of Fribourg is aiming to carry out as much teaching on campus as possible, mostly with masks and cordoning off areas to ensure social distancing.

“This is to ensure the special nature of university education and training,” said rector Astrid Epiney in the same report. The university wants its students to learn lateral thinking, argumentation and analysis, she said.

Students there said that going back to university was a “great motivation”.

An earlier version stated the University of Zurich percentages as registrations, this has been amended to applications.

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