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What a typical Swiss student is like

Students sit together in the main building of the University of Zurich Keystone/Gaetan Bally


There are almost 200,000 university students in Switzerland. What do we know about their backgrounds and how do they get by financially?

This content was published on December 8, 2017 - 15:36
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At the end of November, the Federal Statistical Office published its latest survey on the social and economic situation of studentsExternal link – a study carried out four times since 2005. It asked a representative sample of around 26,000 students across the Swiss academic landscape - at universities, universities of applied sciences (UAS) and universities of teacher education (UTE) - about their lives and finances.

In all, there were 199,145 people studying at such universities during the 2015-2016 academic year.

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Women made up 52% of the Swiss student body. The highest percentage of women was found at teacher education universities, at 73%. It should be noted that the number of female university students drops during the post-doctoral stage (PhDs were not covered in the study) in what is known as the “leaky pipeline”, often due to the pressure of combining family and academia.

The average age of a student at Swiss a university is 25.1 years old, but it is higher for those at applied sciences institutions (26.1) and among trainee teachers (29). The reasons for this, the statistical office says, is that those at applied sciences or teacher education institutions are often able to study alongside their jobs or are changing careers.

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Students at Swiss universities are likely to be following in their parents’ footsteps, as more than half have at least one parent with an academic qualification.

Experts sayExternal link the fact that only 20% of pupils pass the matura (baccalaureate), the school diploma needed for university, means that university entry is very selective compared with other countries. For example, almost 72% of school leavers aged 16-18 continue with full-time education in the UK.

Of the 30% of students with a foreign background, almost half of them (14%) come to Switzerland after gaining their university entry qualification. A further 6% are first-generation migrants and 10% are second-generation, having been born in Switzerland.

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The Statistical Office study estimates that students in Switzerland have an average of CHF2,048 ($2,072) per month at their disposal.

They spent an average of CHF1,737 per month in the spring semester of 2016. Of course, a main factor here was whether the student still lived at home. And, tuition fees are still very low compared with many other countries. The average study fee for a Swiss student in the spring semester 2016 was CHF901 (some universities charge more for foreign students).

The survey also wanted to know about student mobility. By this was meant a period of study in another higher education institution of at least one semester – not studying for a degree abroad or in parallel at more than one institution.

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Of those Swiss students who had been on an exchange semester, 71% went somewhere outside of Switzerland. The main reasons why students didn’t go abroad were finances, lack of interest or the time needed to organise everything, and worries that their studies would be prolonged or that it would not fit in with their paid work.

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