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Work and parents help students pay the bills

Nine out of ten students rely on their parents for financial support Keystone

Parents are the main source of funding for students, with 90 per cent receiving financial support from home, a Switzerland-wide survey has found.

This content was published on January 17, 2006 - 16:41

Almost four in five higher education students work during their studies to make ends meet, while only 16 per cent benefit from grants, according to figures published on Tuesday.

The Federal Statistics Office study is the first of its kind for a decade and paints a picture of students under financial pressure.

It found that students needed on average SFr1,650 ($1,285) per month to live on. Those living at home had lower costs, estimated at SFr1,300, while students paying for their own accommodation needed SFr1,900.

Rent was the biggest expense. Food, clothing and health were next, while expenses linked directly to studies - including transport and fees – made up 20 to 36 per cent of students' monthly budget.

Students would be unable to afford to study without the assistance of their parents, the study concluded. Parental support accounted for more than 50 per cent of their income, while paid work covered a little less than 40 per cent.

Grants and loans played only a minor role in the financial support of students, with just 16 per cent qualifying for assistance. However, those who do receive such support obtained between 30 and 40 per cent of their income from this source.

Reacting to the study, one student association, representing students at technical universities, criticised the low numbers and insufficient level of grants available. It added that work, often unrelated to studies, added to the pressure on students.

"This study refutes the myth that all students are rich, privileged and lazy," commented Rahel Imoberteg, co-president of the Union of Students in Switzerland.

Part-time work

Paid employment played a central role in students' budgets, with 77 per cent of students saying they had worked in the previous year. Most of these - 83 per cent - also worked during term time.

The jobs rarely had a connection with the individual's studies, the study found. Those attending technical universities, such as Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology, were more likely to have a related part-time job.

As for students' social background, more than a third (36 per cent) had at least one parent with higher education qualifications, twice the national average. Just nine per cent came from families where parents have no more than a compulsory education.

Students from professional backgrounds were also overrepresented in universities, at 42 per cent. This percentage was particularly high among those studying medicine, pharmacy, drama or music.

The proportion of students whose parents have higher education qualifications has increased in recent years, indicating that access to university has not become more open, the statistics office noted.

Imoberteg said that disparities in access to higher education were getting worse. "Study grants are supposed to address this phenomenon but they are insufficient."

In all, 64 per cent of the 20,000 students approached took part in the study. A more detailed report will be published at the end of this year.

At present, the average cost of a university course is SFr20,000 a year for humanities, SFr40,000 for scientific subjects and over SFr60,000 for medical studies. These costs are borne by the taxpayer.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The Federal Statistics Office survey of student finances and social background was the first of its kind in a decade.

77 per cent of students said they had worked in the previous year to supplement their income, while 90 per cent received financial support from their parents.

The statistics office estimated that students need on average SFr1,650 per month to live on.

More than a third of students have at least one parent with third level qualifications.

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Key facts

111,000 students attend Swiss universities while 50,000 are enrolled at institutes of technology and applied sciences.
University fees are set at an average of SFr1,500 a year.
The annual cost of higher education in Switzerland is just over SFr4 billion.

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