On 21 June 1999 Switzerland and the European Union (EU) and their Member States signed seven bilateral agreements, including the Swiss-EU Bilateral Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons. Through this Agreement the basic principles of free movement of persons as applied within the EU were introduced in Switzerland.
Through the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons Switzerland participates in the EU mutual diploma recognition system. This system applies only to regulated occupations or professions. Regulated occupations or professions are those requiring a specific qualification or title in order to legally work in the given occupation or profession in a particular country.
With the adoption of EU Directive 2005/36/EC on the recognition of professional qualifications, which has applied in the EU Member States since 2007, the mutual recognition of professional qualifications between Switzerland and the EU/EFTA was simplified.
The academic recognition of higher education diplomas to allow the continuation of studies differs from the labour-market related recognition governed by the Swiss-EU Bilateral Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons. At university level, persons wishing to continue their studies in another country can apply on the basis of the Lisbon Recognition Convention.
Switzerland has also signed bilateral agreements on recognition with Austria, Germany and Italy. These bilateral agreements govern the academic recognition of study credits and higher education diplomas and the holding of academic titles in each of the other countries. A framework agreement has been signed with France on the recognition of diplomas and study credits.
On request, the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) issues Swiss teaching staff or individuals with a diploma in the field of special needs education who wish to work abroad with a confirmation that their qualification is in line with the principle of European Directive 2005/36/EC. In Switzerland and the EU all training courses in the field of teacher education or special needs education fall under this Directive.
Bilateral cooperation with the neighbouring countries Germany, Austria, Italy, France and the Principality of Liechtenstein is geared to the harmonisation of the education systems (leaving qualifications, admission to schools, etc.), exchanges of information, and the solution of different specific problems. The Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) is active in these bilateral relations either on its own or in cooperation with the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA).
Cooperation and Participation in Worldwide Programmes and Organisations
The current activities of the Confederation in the field of Swiss international research cooperation can be classified as follows:
- participation in the development of the European Research and Innovation Area through Swiss cooperation in European programmes and organisations in the field of research and technological development;
- support for global scientific and technological cooperation among Swiss universities and institutions working in research and innovation and their foreign counterparts particularly through the development and promotion of bilateral partnerships with selected countries and regions.
In international educational collaboration multilateral cooperation is particularly important. Worth mentioning here are UNESCO and the activities of the Council of Europe in the field of education. Both organisations contribute as forums to international debate on educational issues and, as promoters of initiatives and projects, provide valuable incentives for cross-border cooperation in education. An important role is played by the education-specific activities of the OECD, which, by raising new issues, and through assessments of transnational competences and comparisons of best practices, stimulates global exchanges of opinion in education.
The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) within the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) is the federal government's specialised agency for national and international matters concerning education, research and innovation policy. As part of its remit it is the contact for national and international authorities and institutions, and represents the Confederation in national bodies and Switzerland in international bodies. Working with other agencies, SERI represents Switzerland in the OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry’s Committee for Science and Technology Policy (CSTP) and in the OECD Directorate for Education’s Education Policy Committee (EDPC). Thanks to its seat on these committees, SERI is involved in international comparative studies on innovation and education systems. This facilitates the exchange of experiences and places Switzerland in an optimal international position.
The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) cooperates closely in the education, research, technology and space sectors with the SERI. The main aim of this cooperation is to ensure that these sectors are incorporated into general foreign policy in a coherent manner.
One of the FDFA's main focuses of action is to assist with the operational design of the way Swiss interests are represented, by participating in organisations including
- the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN)
- the European Space Agency (ESA)
- the joint planning committees of the European Union (EU)
- the committees of the ESA responsible for developing new programmes
The issues dealt with are very varied and relate to international cooperation in the organisations and the formulation of a European policy in areas such as space, earth observation (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security, GMES) and the environment.
The network of scientific attachés and swissnex offices is jointly managed with the SERI. It plays a major part in observing the above-mentioned policies in the target countries and in Switzerland's bilateral cooperation in the areas of education, research, technology and space.