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Universities "not meeting business demands"

A report says the Swiss education system is failing students and the job market Keystone

Switzerland's higher education system has come under fire for failing the needs of students and the labour market, in a report on research and development (R&D).

This content was published on February 8, 2007 - 19:28

The study by Swiss bank Credit Suisse recommends a series of reforms to generate competition between the country's universities and to encourage more students to embark on vocational courses.

The report comes amid growing complaints from various industry sectors about a serious skills shortage in Switzerland and a government drive to increase spending in education and R&D.

"Despite increasing numbers of students in higher education, there is still a chronic lack of graduates who have specialised in technical fields or natural sciences," the report states.

Switzerland is facing a shortfall of 1,500-5,000 qualified personnel, a problem that has worried both the umbrella engineering body Swissmem and the watch-making industry in recent months.

Credit Suisse proposes three areas of reform to get Switzerland's tertiary education system back on track.

The first would make each institution publish the cost effectiveness of each course it runs.

The second would introduce performance criteria, such as measuring the number of graduates who found jobs or comparing mentoring programmes.

A third measure would encourage universities to channel more students into science and technology courses by providing them with information on medium-term labour market requirements.

Cash injection

"These reforms would introduce greater transparency and put universities in a position where they would have to compete more," Credit Suisse researcher Petra Huth told swissinfo.

But Zurich University called the proposals short-sighted and defended its choice of courses offered to students.

"Science and research are the basis of our future. We have to take into account the long-term perspective of providing knowledge and not just the narrow, short-term focus on the immediate needs of the workplace," spokeswoman Christina Hofmann told swissinfo.

"We exercise a freedom of research and education that allows students to choose to study what they are interested in. However, we do cooperate with companies and provide vocational studies, not just fun studies, which address the skills most in demand."

Last month, the Swiss government unveiled proposals to boost spending in education and research by SFr3.4 billion ($2.72 billion) to a total of SFr21.2 billion between 2008 and 2011. The planned spending package will be debated in parliament later this year.

Cost-effectiveness

At the same time, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a report calling into question the cost-effectiveness of Switzerland's educational R&D.

"Compared to other OECD countries reviewed, the overall level of investment in educational R&D in Switzerland is low," the report said.

Swiss researchers are not under enough pressure to compete for funding and do not go far enough to share expertise with international partners, according to the report.

"Responding to these challenges does not necessarily call for more financial investment. They could be met by both maximising current expenditure and maximising the performances of existing Swiss educational research and development institutions," it added.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

In brief

The Swiss education system is undergoing a series of major reforms to make it more competitive globally.

Swiss higher education institutions began to implement the Bologna Declaration in 2001/2 by introducing new Bachelor and Master degree courses. The Bologna system is a European-wide harmonised tertiary education format that applies a two-step (Bachelor and Masters) approach.

A referendum in May last year passed government proposals to enhance coordination between different cantonal school systems and to give the federal authorities a bigger say in setting the educational agenda in future.

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Key facts

In 2005 Switzerland spent three-and-a-half times as much money on social welfare than it did on education and research.
According to OECD research, Switzerland's gross domestic expenditure on R&D was equivalent to 2.57% of gross domestic product (GDP), which is in line with the US and Germany.
However, the proportion of government funding – around a third – is "extremely low" compared to other countries.

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