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Covid-19: Universities welcome more students than ever

Students at the University of Zurich at start of the autumn semester 2020. Universities were closed 2 months after Keystone / Alexandra Wey

The number of students at Swiss universities increased by 5% in the year 2020/1 to 164,575 – despite the coronavirus pandemic. There was an above-average rise in foreign students.

The most affected was the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI) in Italian-speaking Ticino with a 12.8% rise. It was followed by the universities of Geneva and Lausanne and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), with increases of 6%-7.6%, according to figuresExternal link published by the Federal Statistical Office on Friday.

This confirms the trend reported by universities that fewer school leavers were going on gap years owing to travel and health restrictions. For those finishing their Bachelors, many students have decided to do a Masters owing to the difficulty of job hunting in a pandemic.

Swiss universities have been in a second shutdown for in-person teaching since November 2 as part of pandemic measures – they were also closed in spring 2020. Most students are currently following courses online.

Foreign students

Foreign students are still coming to Swiss universities in above-average numbers, the statistical office said. This confirms a trend reported to SWI


The exact rise was 6.4%, with a 10% rise at Masters level alone. Three-quarters of international students came from Europe and of those most came from the European Union. Germans made up the lion’s share.

Asia was the second most popular continent of origin, followed by America.


Women made up 52% of all students and have now made up the majority of students for ten years, the statistical office said. The university with the highest share of female students is Geneva, at 62.7%.

The most popular subjects among women were the humanities and social sciences (69% women), medicine (63%) and law (60%). Women made up only around 30% of technical sciences’ students.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR