There is an extremely broad range of continuing education and training (CET) programmes and courses in Switzerland, with different objectives, content and durations according to target group. These are defined by the providers.
The admission requirements depend on the type of CET. There are no special admission requirements for most CET courses.
However, admission to certain CET programmes offered by tertiary-level institutions (universities and colleges of higher education) or preparatory courses for federal examinations require specific qualifications. CET programmes at tertiary institutions are discussed below, as are classes and courses of study at other institutions.
CET programmes at tertiary sector institutions
CET at universities, universities of applied sciences and universities of teacher education
The umbrella organisation of the Swiss universities swissuniversities has defined various benchmarks to create uniform framework provisions for university-level CET. At universities, universities of applied sciences and universities of teacher education, alongside confirmations of attendance the following qualifications may be acquired:
- Master of Advanced Studies (MAS): in general, MAS courses are mainly directed at those with a university degree at Master’s level, who are already in employment. MAS courses generally last two years or more and are usually completed on a part-time basis while working. If completed as a full-time study course they generally last at least one year. They require the student to write a Master’s dissertation and represent the highest level of CET qualification that can be achieved at a university. The best-known qualifications are (Executive) Master of Business Administration (E)MBA, Master of Public Health (MPH), Master of Laws (LL.M.) or Master of Public Administration (MPA).
- Diploma of Advanced Studies (DAS): the DAS is a diploma course which offers in-depth training in a specific specialist area. DAS courses generally last between one and two years and, in addition to attending lectures and self-study, often require the student to write a final paper at the end of the course. Successful students are awarded the “Diploma of Advanced Studies”.
- Certificate of Advanced Studies (CAS): CAS are certificate courses. Often, several CAS courses can be combined and – depending on the courses on offer – can even lead to a MAS or a DAS. CAS courses generally last between a few months and one year and sometimes require students to write up a short project in addition to self-study and attending lectures. Successful students are awarded the “Certificate of Advanced Studies”.
|MAS programme||Master of Advanced Studies (MAS)||At least 60 ECTS points|
DASDiploma of Advanced Studies (DAS)
|At least 30 ECTS points|
CertificateCertificate of Advanced Studies (CAS)
|At least 10 ECTS points|
|Continuing education and training (CET) course||Confirmation of attendance||No special requirements|
CET at colleges of higher education
Post-diploma courses at colleges of higher education are geared primarily to graduates of tertiary level professional education who wish to specialise further in their field. Post-diploma courses comprise at least 900 learning hours.
Post-diploma courses are recognised by the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI). However, unlike the formal education programmes of the colleges of higher education, they are not based on framework curricula (with the exception of the health sector).
Post-diploma courses at colleges of higher education conclude with a federally recognised diploma. The diploma is followed by the letters “NDS HF” (e.g. “dipl. Controller/in NDS HF”), which stand for Nachdiplomstudiengang höhere Fachschule, or “Post-diploma course, college of higher education”.
CET programmes outside the tertiary sector
A variety of providers offer CET courses outside the tertiary sector. These range from language courses at all levels to information technology, arts and crafts, and continuing professional development (CPD) courses or courses of study leading to professional specialisation or leadership skills. The admission requirements depend on the type of CET. The structure of the classes and courses of study, time required, type of assessment etc. differ widely and depend on the CET course chosen. The type of qualification varies depending on the CET course. Course providers award their own, non-state recognised examination certificates or certificates of attendance.
The preparatory courses for federal examinations are a special case. The preparatory courses prepare for a tertiary level professional education qualification (Federal Diploma of Higher Education with a Swiss Federal Certificate or Advanced Federal Diploma of Higher Education with a Swiss Federal Diploma). They are structured differently and are not regulated by the state. As long as the courses are included on the list of preparatory courses, however, graduates can receive “subject funding” after successfully completing the federal examinations.
Provision to raise achievement in basic skills
The promotion of basic competences among adults forms an integral part of national continuing education and training policy. In collaboration with experts the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) has so far produced two orientation frameworks. These define what is regarded as basic competences in mathematics as well as in the area of ICT. For 2021–2024, the Confederation is making a total of around CHF 43 million available to promote basic competences among adults. This will be doubled, at least, by the cantons. The targets defined for this period are set out in a position paper developed by SERI and the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK). 21 cantons have developed their own programme to promote basic competences among adults for the 2021–2024 period. Each of these programmes is tailored individually to the needs of the respective canton. They differ according to the size of the population, geographical and organisational characteristics, or the traditional support for adults already in place. Often the cantonal programmes offer education providers opportunities to meet other providers, courses to refresh basic competences, or courses to raise the awareness of the target group and those in contact with it.
Provision to achieve a recognised qualification during adulthood certification
Adults can also acquire recognised upper secondary level formal education qualifications (baccalaureate, upper secondary specialised school certificate, specialised baccalaureate, Federal VET Diploma, Federal Vocational Baccalaureate). The same certificates are awarded as in the upper secondary education programmes.
Providers of relevant general education training courses include baccalaureate schools for adults, upper secondary specialised schools and specialised baccalaureate schools for adults. The educational qualifications can also be obtained by preparing individually and passing the free central Swiss baccalaureate examinations or the free central Federal Vocational Baccalaureate examination. In the field of vocational and professional education and training these include: abridged VET, sitting the regular VET final examinations without previously completing a regular formal course of education, validation of educational performance, and subsequently acquiring the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate.
Acquiring a general education upper secondary level leaving certificate during adulthood
Adults can acquire a general education upper secondary level leaving certificate (baccalaureate, upper secondary specialised school certificate, specialised baccalaureate). Depending on the leaving certificate, this gives them access to specific tertiary level courses of education.
Subsequently acquiring the baccalaureate during adulthood
Adults who wish to acquire the baccalaureate leaving certificate and thus qualify for admission to study courses at universities and at universities of teacher education and, with additional requirements (corresponding work experience), for study courses at universities of applied sciences (see below), have the following options:
- Attending a recognised baccalaureate school for adults and then sitting the baccalaureate examination. . Adults can graduate from a recognised (state-run or private) baccalaureate school for adults. The education and training is guided by the Ordinance or the equivalent EDK Regulation on the recognition of baccalaureates (MAV/MAR) and the framework curriculum for baccalaureate schools for adults. The same minimum requirements therefore apply as at regular baccalaureate schools. The course may, however, be completed by attending full-time schools or on a part-time basis while working. It lasts at least three years. An appropriate part of the course must be completed in the classroom. The schools lay down the admission requirements. Often adult learners must first pass an admission test. Adults sit the baccalaureate examination in the recognised school which they attend. The final grades are based on the examination results, the annual grades in the examination subjects, the annual grades for the non-examination subjects, and the grade for the baccalaureate essay. The same conditions for awarding a pass apply as for the leaving certificate at baccalaureate schools. The programme leads to a federally recognised cantonal baccalaureate.
- Taking the Swiss baccalaureate examinations, which are organised centrally by the Swiss Baccalaureate Examination Commission (SMK) (attendance of a non-recognised preparatory school or preparing individually). The Swiss baccalaureate examinations are offered by the Swiss Baccalaureate Examination Commission (SMK) and organised by the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI). Two examinations take place each year in the three language regions. The examination conditions and requirements, and the conditions for awarding a pass, are regulated by the ordinance on the Swiss baccalaureate examination and examination guidelines. Twelve subjects are tested (ten basic subjects, one specialised subject, one complementary subject). Moreover, a baccalaureate essay must be written before registering for the examinations. The assessment of the baccalaureate essay also counts towards the baccalaureate grades. There is also an option to acquire a baccalaureate certificate endorsed with the words “bilingual baccalaureate”, for which examinations in three subjects must be taken in a second language. Unlike in the case of attendance of a baccalaureate school for adults, in the Swiss baccalaureate examinations there is no continuous assessment (validated annual grades); only the results achieved in the examinations count towards the final grade. Adults can prepare for the examinations by attending a private, non-recognised preparatory school. The teaching is not regulated and may also take place through a correspondence course. Adults can also prepare themselves individually for the exams through self-teaching. The programme leads to a Swiss baccalaureate. This certificate is equivalent to the baccalaureates which are issued by recognised baccalaureate schools or by recognised baccalaureate schools for adults. In 2021, 502 people passed the Swiss baccalaureate examinations (total baccalaureates: 19,089) (upper secondary level: baccalaureate rate).
Acquiring an upper secondary specialised school leaving certificate and a specialised baccalaureate school leaving certificate during adulthood
Adults can complete upper secondary specialised school and specialised baccalaureate school education in a recognised full-time or part-time school for adults and thus qualify for admission to specified study courses at colleges of professional education and training, universities of applied sciences or universities of teacher education. For information on the subjects, the curriculum or assessment please refer to the information on upper secondary specialised school and specialised baccalaureate school education. The programme leads to either a nationally recognised upper secondary specialised school certificate or a nationally recognised specialised baccalaureate.
Acquiring a vocational and professional upper secondary level leaving certificate during adulthood
Adults have various options for acquiring a federal leaving certificate from vocational upper secondary level schools (Federal VET Certificate, Federal VET Diploma, Federal Vocational Baccalaureate). In addition to the recognised qualification, graduates also meet the admission requirements for tertiary-level courses of education.
Adults can complete abridged VET in a formal training course. They must have specific knowledge or a professional qualification in a first occupation, or a leaving certificate from an upper secondary level general education school. An apprenticeship contract with a training company is also required. The programme concludes with a qualification procedure. A qualification procedure may be repeated no more than two times. Depending on the training course, the programme leads to a Federal VET Certificate or a Federal VET Diploma.
Those who have successfully completed a two-year VET and achieved a Federal VET Certificate may complete a three to four-year VET programme leading to a Federal VET Diploma as an abridged programme. Skills already acquired can also be credited. Corresponding reductions in the time required to complete the VET programmes are regulated by the education ordinances for the different professions.
In some professions specially abridged training courses for adults are offered, for instance, if a second VET course is completed in a similar professional field.
Participation in the regular VET final examinations
Under the Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act adults can be admitted to a qualification procedure outside a regulated course of education. To this end, at least five years’ general professional experience is required pursuant to the Vocational and Professional Education and Training Ordinance, (VET Ordinance, VPETO), and specific professional experience of three years, generally. The specific admission requirements are defined in the education ordinance for the specific vocational education and training. Adults must acquire the required vocational and general education knowledge in the chosen occupation. In this process they can prepare for the qualification procedure in different ways:
- they can attend the VET school with young learners;
- for occupations in heavy demand, VET schools or other education providers also offer special preparatory courses;
- they can also prepare through self-study
The cantonal VET offices are responsible for admission to the specific qualification procedure. Depending on the qualification procedure, the programme leads either to a Federal VET Certificate or to a Federal VET Diploma. The qualification procedure may be repeated no more than two times.
Validation of educational performance
In addition to the final examination, in some professions other qualification procedures may be completed. One of these procedures is the validation of educational performance. Adults can document their professional and extra-professional competences in a validation dossier and in this way acquire a federally recognised leaving certificate. An expert panel checks and assesses the competences compiled in the dossier and decides whether to award the Federal VET Diploma or Federal VET Certificate, or makes recommendations on how to acquire the competences that are still needed.
Acquiring the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate during adulthood
Professionals with a Federal VET Diploma can subsequently obtain the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate. General information on the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate and on the new framework curriculum may be found in the information on vocational upper secondary education.
Adult professionals have various options for acquiring the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate. They can choose to complete Federal Vocational Baccalaureate lessons with an integrated final examination as a full-time course (duration: two semesters) or on a part-time basis while working (duration: three to four semesters).
They can, however, also take the free central Federal Vocational Baccalaureate examination. This examination is held once a year by the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI). The examination is governed by the Ordinance on the Federal Professional Baccalaureate. Examinations are currently held in three subject areas (technology, architecture, life sciences; business administration and services; health and social affairs). Supplementary guidelines issue by SERI provide additional information on the syllabus, list of subjects, examination contents, examination forms and requirements. Federal Vocational Baccalaureate examination candidates are also required to draft and present an interdisciplinary project. The preparation for the examinations is carried out individually or with the support of a non-recognised preparatory school. They lead to a Federal Vocational Baccalaureate certificate. The Federal Vocational Baccalaureate examination may be repeated no more than once.
Provision targeting the transition to the labour market
With the widespread dual vocational and professional education and training system, entry into the labour market in Switzerland is often staggered: a first step is taken when starting a dual apprenticeship, a second when completing the apprenticeship, or another training programme. At both transition points, education and training provision is available to those who do not manage to enter directly into vocational and professional education and training or the labour market.
Transition from compulsory education to upper secondary level
Bridge-year courses are in place at the end of compulsory schooling and before the start of education and training at upper secondary level. They are directed at young people who have not yet found a training position. These interim solutions, generally organised by the cantons, vary greatly in terms of their titles, structure and content. However, they usually pursue the same goals, namely preparing young people to:
- choose between vocational training or general education
- find, or successfully complete, vocational education and training (apprenticeship) through an additional training programme
- pursue vocational training in a specific field, e.g. applied arts or health, or admission to a full-time school
- pursue education at an upper secondary specialised school or baccalaureate school through an additional training programme.
The Swiss unemployment insurance system (ALV) helps people re-enter the labour market, and plays an important role in bridging periods of unemployment. The Federal Act on Unemployment Insurance guarantees a reasonable replacement income or compensation in the event of unemployment, short-time work, bad weather and insolvency. Two key instruments are used to place jobseekers in employment: counselling and placement by the regional employment centres (Arbeitsvermittlungszentren, RAV), and labour market programmes (arbeitsmarktliche Massnahmen, AMM). Labour market programmes support permanent reintegration into the labour market by qualifying jobseekers for the needs of the labour market. Labour market programmes can be divided into educational measures (individual or collective courses for retraining, continuing education and training, or integration into the labour market), employment measures (temporary employment programmes) and “special” measures. Responsibility for lifelong learning and CET lies with the individual and the employer. However, since about one third of those registered with the unemployment insurance system (ALV) do not have a vocational qualification, the system is particularly impacted by the consequences of insufficient vocational qualifications and CET. The ALV plays a subsidiary role as regards promoting the education or CET of jobseekers. The primary mission of the ALV is the rapid (re-)integration of the unemployed into the labour market. The ALV can, however, help those who fall under its remit to acquire the skills they lack through labour market programmes and so promote not only their rapid, but also their permanent, reintegration into the labour market. Through training subsidies, the ALV can also pay or contribute to indirect education costs and thus facilitate the acquisition of an upper secondary level qualification. In addition, it can cover the direct educational costs for individual CET courses or modules to help acquire this qualification. The CET courses offered as part of the labour market programmes vary from canton to canton and can include a variety of different courses. In summary, in Switzerland it is possible in principle for the unemployed to benefit from CET, but this is subject to the conditions laid down in the Federal Act on Unemployment.
Provision of liberal (popular) adult education
General adult education is part of non-formal education. It offers opportunities for personal development, cultural enrichment, intellectual and creative stimulation, and enjoyment.
The reasons why the Swiss attend continuing education and training vary relatively widely. More information is provided by a survey conducted by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office in 2016. A majority (34%) of Swiss people between the ages of 15 and 75 opt for CET purely for professional reasons. 13% cite non-professional reasons, and around 16% both professional and non-professional reasons. Professional purposes (49%) therefore clearly outweigh non-professional purposes (29%). Nevertheless, the latter must not be underestimated.
In contrast to continuing professional development (CPD), the average age of those undertaking non-professional training is much more consistent. Among 15 to 24-year-olds, 37% continue their education outside of work. The participation rate for 25 to 34-year-olds is 31% and for all other age groups around 25%. Here, too, the reasons for participation are very diverse. Personal interests (91%) and pleasure (78%) come first. But “staying up-to-date/maintaining knowledge” (70%) and “learning things that are important in everyday life” (67%) are also important reasons given for participation.
In contrast to CPD programmes, non-professional programmes often take a little more time. Around one third of non-professional CET events last a maximum of 8 hours. At the same time, people mostly attend CET in the thematic areas of “sports, creative arts” (35%), “languages” (13%) and “science, technology” (12%).
Other types of publicly subsidised provision for adult learners
Most forms of publicly subsidised CET provision have already been dealt with in depth. Another field is access to CET for people with a disability/disabilities. They have a legal right to proportionate adjustments to the examinations and courses of education provided by state educational institutions that come under the Confederation, the cantons and the municipalities. If a person with a disability is disadvantaged during training and CET, he or she may apply to the courts and the competent authorities to offset that disadvantage. “Compensation for disadvantages” offsets the burdens arising as a result of the specific disability. Applications for this type of compensation must be submitted directly to the educational institution. An important player is the national umbrella organisation for people with physical, cognitive and mental impairments in Switzerland, Pro Infirmis.
The organisation is largely financed by federal investments, and the individual cantonal offices support people with disabilities on their educational pathway. Travail Suisse Formation is active specifically in formulating recommendations as regards CET access for people with disabilities.