The tertiary level covers courses at higher education institutions and tertiary level professional education.
In the higher education sector courses may be completed at universities (10 cantonal universities, two Federal Institutes of Technology), at eight state-run universities of applied sciences and one private university of applied sciences, and at universities of teacher education, which count as universities of applied sciences. The universities are involved in basic research in particular. The universities of applied sciences are focused more towards professional practice and carry out applied and profession-specific research and development.
Tertiary level professional education is carried out in the non-higher education sector. It comprises training courses for demanding professional activities and management functions and serves management training and specialisation. Tertiary level professional education includes training courses at colleges of higher education as well as Federal and Advanced Federal Diplomas of Higher Education.
Higher education institutions
Based on the Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation (Article 63a Higher education institutions), the Confederation and the cantons are jointly responsible for the coordination and guarantee of quality in Swiss higher education. Higher education comprises the universities, the universities of applied sciences and the universities of teacher education.
The Federal Act on Funding and Coordination of the Higher Education Sector (Higher Education Act, HEdA), which entered into force on 1 January 2015, forms the legal basis at federal level. In the cantons, the legal basis is the Intercantonal Agreement on Higher Education (Higher Education Agreement) of 20 June 2013, which also entered into force on 1 January 2015. All cantons have signed this agreement.
The Federal Act and the Higher Education Agreement enabled the Federal Council and the cantons to conclude an Agreement between the Confederation and the cantons on Cooperation in the Higher Education Sector (ZSAV-HS). This cooperation agreement, which entered into force on 1 January 2015, establishes a number of joint bodies and regulates their competences:
- The Swiss Conference of Higher Education Institutions (Schweizerische Hochschulkonferenz SHK) is the supreme body for university policy. The Confederation and the cantons are represented in it. The SHK is responsible for coordinating the activities of the Confederation and the cantons in the field of higher education throughout Switzerland.
- The Rectors' Conference of the Swiss Universities (swissuniversities) presents its views on the activities of the SUC and submits proposals to it on behalf of universities. It represents the interests of Swiss universities at national and international level.
- The Swiss Accreditation Council is the joint organisation of the Confederation and the cantons for quality assurance and accreditation in the Swiss higher education landscape.
The HEdA regulates funding and coordination. It concerns coordination throughout Switzerland as a whole, but not specific issues regarding the design of training or of university courses, etc. The universities and the maintaining cantons remain autonomous.
The HEdA obliges higher education institutions to periodically check the quality of their teaching and research, and of their services, and to ensure long-term quality assurance and quality development. Through institutional accreditation, the higher education institution is given the right to use in its name the term “university”, “university of applied sciences” or “university of teacher education”, or a derivative such as in particular “university institute” or “university of applied sciences institute”.
The Ordinance on the Federal Act on Funding and Coordination of the Higher Education Sector (HEdA-Ordinance) regulates competences and the procedure governing the entitlement of universities and other higher education institutions to receive funding contributions, and contains implementing provisions on contributions to cover expenditure for construction and use of buildings as well as on contributions to shared infrastructure facilities.
The cantons are responsible for the management and supervision of cantonal universities, universities of applied sciences and universities of teacher education. The Confederation is responsible for the management and supervision of the Federal Institutes of Technology (FIT). The cantonal university and university of applied sciences acts, the cantonal acts on universities of teacher education, and the Federal Act on the Federal Institutes of Technology (FIT Act) regulate the tasks and organisation of the universities.
Tertiary level professional education
Tertiary level professional education covers the professional non-university sector of the tertiary level (tertiary level B). It awards the qualifications needed for a demanding professional activity with specialist or management responsibility. The courses of education are varied as regards content, requirements and maintaining bodies, and are marked by their consistent orientation to the needs of the labour market. Tertiary level professional education is managed federally in partnership between the Confederation, the cantons and the professional organisations (OdA) (see table). The legal bases are anchored in the national legislation on vocational and professional education and training and in the EAER Ordinance on the Minimum Requirements for the Recognition of Courses of Study and Post-Graduate Programmes at Colleges of Higher Education. Tertiary level professional education is a specific feature of the Swiss education system. In many other countries corresponding types of training are carried out at higher education institutions.
Tertiary level professional education is divided into the following two areas:
- Examinations for Federal and Advanced Federal Diplomas of Higher Education
- Colleges of higher education
The academic year at higher education institutions is divided into two semesters. Each semester (lecture period) lasts 14 weeks at universities and 14 to 16 weeks at universities of applied sciences. In the autumn semester classes begin in calendar week 38 and end in calendar week 51, while in the spring semester classes begin in calendar week 8 and end in week 22 (with one week off).