The Swiss continuing education and training (CET) landscape is characterised by great diversity with regard to responsibility, regulation, programmes offered and financing. CET is largely market-based. More than three quarters of the CET activities attended are in job-related fields and topics. These include, in particular, topics from the fields of business and labour, science and technology, and information technology.
The most important players in CET are the Confederation, cantons, social partners, CET providers and professional associations. They all make specific contributions to the CET system. At the same time, CET is primarily each individual’s own responsibility.
Private bodies often provide CET courses and programmes. Thus, CET is mainly financed through fees paid by participants.
The Confederation and the cantons have a subsidiary role in CET: they intervene in the areas of CET where it would not be possible to achieve the objectives pursued and intended effects without suitable regulation or supportive measures. The areas of responsibility of the Confederation and the cantons therefore include the particular promotion of CET for educationally disadvantaged persons. CET programmes in the fields of migration and integration, basic competences, maintaining the ability to work, etc. may be supported by the Confederation and the cantons.
Various laws passed by the Confederation include provisions regarding CET. These regulations (like Switzerland’s CET sector as a whole) have grown historically and go into different degrees of detail, and also serve different purposes:
- The Federal Act on Continuing Professional Development lays down principles for CET and defines the prerequisites for the awarding of financial assistance by the Confederation. It specifies how the Confederation promotes CET research and development, and regulates the promotion, by the Confederation, of the acquisition and maintenance of basic competences by adults. The Federal Act on Continuing Professional Development is a framework law that sets general guidelines but does not regulate details. It is implemented by the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI).
- The Federal Act on Vocational and Professional Education and Training (Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act, VPETA) regulates job-related CET.
- The implementation of the principles of the Federal Act on Continuing Professional Development in the higher education sector is carried out by the joint higher education policy bodies of the Confederation and the cantons. The legal basis for this is the Federal Act on Funding and Coordination of the Higher Education Sector (HFKG).
- The Higher Education Council Ordinance on the Coordination of Teaching at Swiss Higher Education Institutions regulates the structure of CET programmes at the universities of applied sciences and the universities of teacher education.
- Various federal regulations apply to CET in other policy areas, for instance in relation to reintegration measures in the event of unemployment or disability.
- The Swiss Code of Obligations also includes provisions on CET.
The cantons regulate job-related CET in cantonal implementing laws for the Federal Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act. Depending on the canton, general (non job-related) CET may be regulated differently in terms of legal provisions and organisation, e.g. in a specific CET law, within the framework of the regulations on job-related CET, in laws on schools and culture, or in other legal bases.
The cantons coordinate transregional CET tasks in the Intercantonal Conference for Continuing Education and Training (IKW). The IKW is a specialist conference within the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) and advocates life-long learning.