Swiss education system - overview

Keystone / Peter Klaunzer

Switzerland has numerous universities, technology institutes and other learning centres that put the country's education system among the world's best.

This content was published on February 19, 2019 - 11:01

Education is generally inexpensive for Swiss students compared with those in the United States and Britain as the system relies almost entirely on public funds from the cantons and local municipalities (90% of total public expenditure on education.)

There are 12 public universities including two Federal Institutes of Technology,External link which count themselves among world leaders in science and engineering. Eight public universities of applied sciences and artsExternal link as well as 20 Universities of Teacher EducationExternal link round out the country’s public education system.

The Ranking Forum of Swiss UniversitiesExternal link lists how various Swiss universities fare across several ranking reports, including the Times World University Rankings and Shanghai.

The majority of students in Switzerland complete 11 years of compulsory education at a state school in the municipality in which they live. Roughly 5% attend a private school. Switzerland also has some of the best, and most expensive, private schools in the world, ranging from kindergarten up to university age. The Swiss Federation of Private SchoolsExternal link has more information on the 240 schools in the system.

The Swiss education system is characterised in particular the ability to move between the different educational levels or structures. There are many ways to enter or transfer to a training programme or school or to attend a catch-up training programme. 

Swiss education is also a very open system. Anyone who has the necessary qualifications can generally attend the course of his/her choice, and the university attended can also be freely selected. Vocational education and training is subject to some restrictions due to ceilings on apprenticeship positions. At some universities, access to specific subjects is also limited.

Languages and education

The language of instruction is German, French, Italian or Romansh, depending on the language region, though Romansh-language municipalities represent a special case. Traditionally, language learning has an important role in Switzerland. Students learn a second official language of Switzerland as well as English during their compulsory school years.

Globalisation has meant that English now competes with the national languages in the school system. There is a great deal of controversy about this in Switzerland with some insisting on the value of the national languages for national unity, and others saying English should be the top priority.

At a more basic level, language is a constant issue in the Swiss primary school. To begin with, Swiss-German children, who speak dialect at home, face the task of learning standard German. Families are now more mobile in search of jobs, and may move to a canton where another language is spoken. In the bigger cities there are many immigrant children who come to school with little or no knowledge of the local language. Primary schools and their teachers are under a great deal of pressure to meet the needs of all these children.

Articles in this story

This article was automatically imported from our old content management system. If you see any display errors, please let us know:

Comments under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Share this story

Join the conversation!

With a SWI account, you have the opportunity to contribute on our website.

You can Login or register here.