The annual congress of the Organisation for the Swiss Abroad has ended with calls for more open mindedness. Experts appealed for increased efforts to adapt the Swiss education system to face the challenges of the future.This content was published on August 20, 2000 - 12:54
Speakers at the meeting in town of Zug praised the high quality of Switzerland's education system, but underlined the need to introduce changes. Otherwise, they said, Switzerland risked losing its position in the world.
Two panels of politicians and experts on Saturday warned that reforms were overdue to improve coordination among the country's different school systems. They also called for more competitiveness and better finances.
Several speakers appealed for the removal of administrative hurdles to stop talented scientists from studying and working abroad. They said it was necessary to attract top students from other countries to make Switzerland a centre for science and research.
Critics said that the bilateral accords with the European Union, expected to come into force next year, were easing some of the problems. But, more ought to be done to ensure that Swiss students have access to universities in EU countries and that Swiss diplomas and academic degrees are recognised.
The Federal Chancellor, Annemarie Huber-Hotz, in her address to the congress appealed for more open mindedness and tolerance. As representative of the government, she called on voters to reject a people's initiative aimed at limiting the number of foreign residents in Switzerland.
Huber-Hotz also said plans were underway to facilitate the voting procedure for Swiss citizens living abroad. A pilot project is looking at ways to introduce voting by electronic mail.
There are currently 580,000 Swiss expatriates all over the world, but only 70,000 (that is less than 20 per cent) are registered voters.
Ahead of the congress, the council of the Organisation for the Swiss Abroad on Friday supported the government's policy aim to lead Switzerland into the United Nations. The organisation also agreed to adopt a higher profile in Switzerland.
On the final day of the gathering in the town of Zug, the Swiss expatriates travelled to the Rigi mountain in central Switzerland for their traditional excursion.
Four hundred and fifty people took part in this year's congress. Its main theme was: "Education in Switzerland: chances and challenges."
Next year's congress will take place in the mountain resort of Davos and will focus on proposals for Switzerland to join the United Nations. The director of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad, Rudolf Wyder, told swissinfo he was convinced that the subject would raise widespread interest among Swiss expatriates.
A nationwide vote on UN membership is expected in 2002. In 1986, the electorate overwhelmingly rejected a similar proposal, making Switzerland now one of the last countries in the world to stay out the organisation. However, it has been participating in numerous UN institutions and hosts the European headquarters of the UN in Geneva.
by Urs Geiser
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