The Swiss authorities need to accommodate the growing number of international students, according to an executive with a prominent American corporation. Geneva-based René Gisiger says multinational companies could stay away from Switzerland if the schools don't cope with demand.
"The situation is critical," Gisiger, speaking for the Group of Multinational Employers, told the Swiss-American chamber of commerce. "Many companies are losing patience."
Gisiger, who works for Caterpillar, says Geneva-area international schools can accommodate 6,000 to 8,000 English-speaking students, but that is far from sufficient. He warns that, with executives already facing a housing shortage and difficulty in obtaining work permits, the lack of available schools adds pressure, which could lead companies to choose business sites other than Switzerland.
Looking for solutions, American firms have started helping schools obtain work permits for English-speaking teachers.
The problem affects Geneva and Zurich, and may affect other cities as well, Gisiger says.
"We are receiving an ever-increasing number of complaints from companies who cannot find schools for their employees' children," said Thomas Knecht, president of the Swiss-American chamber of commerce.
Managers consider schooling for their children to be a critical issue. "Managers spend a huge amount of time at work, so they would like to be sure their children are receiving proper tuition," says Werner Koepf, head of Compaq in Zurich.
Private school subsidies
Some cantons are being pressed to subsidise private schools, an issue which remains controversial.
"We don't want a US-style education system, with different categories of schools," says Ernest Buchsor, head of Zurich's education department. The cantonal parliament is considering legislation that would guarantee support for private schools.
Schools that contribute to the financial well being of the canton, as well as those offering tuition to the children of short-term residents would receive subsidies. The law could go into effect by 2004, according to Buchsor.
Peter Buomberger, chief economist for the UBS bank, says Switzerland has become a popular location for multinational companies in recent years. Low taxes, the quality of life and security are part of the attraction.
Zurich and Geneva have been ranked among the top four cities in the world for their quality of life.
swissinfo with agencies