Struggling Swiss students have to find jobs

Part-time work isn't always something to smile about imagepoint

Seventy-five per cent of Swiss students have to work to finance their studies, and the work-study combination could be affecting their health, a study shows.

This content was published on November 24, 2010 - 14:11
Emily Wright,

Compared with five years ago, they have less to live on.

The Federal Statistics Office survey, carried out in 2009 among 24,000 university and technical college students, found that for more than half of respondents work and study represent 36 to 55 hours a week.

In 2009, students in lodgings had to find SFr1,870 ($ 1,880) on average a month, while those living at home had a budget of SFr1,210. In both cases this was down SFr100 on 2005.

The lion’s share of study costs are met by parents. Just 16 per cent of students benefit from subsidised fees. The Swiss Students’ Union has launched an initiative to prompt the government to rethink its grant system.

Bologna effect?

Rahel Imobersteg, secretary-general of the Swiss Students’ Union, says the numbers don’t come as a surprise.

“It’s more or less the same as four years ago and pretty much all our friends work,” she told

In fact, the last study carried out in 2005 found that 78 per cent of university students worked alongside their studies. The figure has now slipped to 75 per cent.

The Statistics Office says it is too early to say whether the slight decrease is due to the Bologna university reforms, which take away flexibility in the duration of study courses, or the economic situation which disadvantages those looking for part-time work.

“What is interesting is that fewer students in the first years [of study] work now, and we think that could be down to the fact the new Bologna system doesn’t allow you to work, which segregates those who cannot afford it,” Imobersteg said.

26 different systems

According to Imobersteg, the lack of a proper grant system in Switzerland forces students to find paid employment and sometimes to even put their studies at risk.

In Switzerland, there are as many grant systems as cantons – 26.

This means there are big inequalities between students coming from different regions.

“Some cantons, Zurich, for instance, give out decent grants, but only to very few students, whereas poorer cantons, like Jura, try to give a lot of grants, but they are so low, they do not even cover the rent. “

Imobersteg argues that having 26 different systems makes no sense at all and gives an advantage to students from privileged classes.

To counter what it sees as a social injustice, the union is launching a people’s initiative demanding a change in the constitution to harmonise the grant system.

It is asking for a “minimum standard” and need to gather 100,000 signatures by January 2012.

Impact on studies and health

In 2009, 28 per cent of students said juggling work and study was difficult.

Imobersteg says that according to the Rectors Conference of Swiss Universities, if you work more than 25 per cent alongside studies, you are putting your health in danger.

And she says most students work more than 25 per cent.

“If you work more than that, you have less time for course work, you may not be able to go to your obligatory courses and you will possibly get lower grades.”

In 2009, the proportion of students, who believed their health was affected by the combination between work and studies, stood at 12 per cent.

Parents’ help

According to the study the parents’ level of education has a great impact not only on the financing of the students’ studies, but also on whether they study at all.

Their financial contribution varies from 61 per cent in the case of families where at least one parent has completed university education to 44 per cent for parents who haven’t completed any post-obligatory education.

46 per cent of students come from families in which at least one parent is a graduate.

Parents’ support is not just financial; 40 per cent of students live with their parents, while 27 per cent live in a flat-share. 15 per cent live with their partner and/or children in rented accommodation, while 12 per cent live alone.

Post-secondary education

In Switzerland, a student who completes high school and passes the final exams has access to the country’s university system. But the rate of students who get that far is low (20%). Among those who do, however, 90% go on to get a university masters degree.

At applied science institutions, most students end their education with a bachelors. Just 16% of students go on to get a masters.

About one in three master students in 2008 received a bachelors degree at another school, often in another country (20%).

In 2008, only 4% of those entering a masters programme had received a bachelors in another field.

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Bologna reforms

The Bologna Process was launched in 1999 by 29 European countries, including Switzerland, this process now has 47 participating countries.

The reform was initiated in the universities between 2001 and 2005.
In the fall semester for the year 2009/10, all students beginning their studies at a Swiss technical university began in a bachelor's programme (including medicine) and 90% of university students were following a bachelors or masters.

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