Switzerland is not a member of the European Union (EU). Relations between Switzerland and the EU are governed by bilateral agreements. 1999 saw the conclusion of Bilateral Agreements I between Switzerland and the EU, and in 2004 the Schengen/Dublin Agreement was signed as part of the second round of bilateral agreements with the EU.
The bilateral agreements are important to the education system as regards the free movement of persons (recognition of training qualifications for the exercise of a professional activity) and for participation in EU framework programmes for research and education programmes.
Since 1 January 2011 Switzerland has been taking part in the European education, vocational training and youth programmes which grant the Swiss equal access to all mobility and cooperation projects within the framework of these programmes. For the period from 2007 to 2013 Switzerland and the European Union have adopted an education agreement on the participation of Switzerland in the “Lifelong Learning” action programme and in the “Youth in Action” programme.
From 1 January 2014 the new EU programme Erasmus+ (2014 to 2020) replaces the two previous programmes “Lifelong Learning” and “Youth in Action”. The programme will continue to be aimed at the four educational levels schools, vocational and professional education and training, higher education, and adult education, as well as at extracurricular youth work. Each level offers three types of project: mobility, cooperation and support for political processes.
The offers of the new programme Erasmus+ are open to schools and other education and vocational education and training institutions in Switzerland and their staff and managers at all levels.
The EU programme Erasmus+ incorporates the following programmes:
- Comenius: the European programme for school education as a whole facilitates individual mobility for learning purposes and supports pupils, teachers and other education staff in Europe in acquiring cultural and linguistic qualifications and competences in addition to their knowledge of specific school subjects – abilities which are necessary for personal development and future employment.
- Leonardo da Vinci: the European programme for vocational education and training enables VET institutions to organise mobility and cooperation projects, and thus work together with partners from across Europe.
- Erasmus: the European programme for higher education supports higher education institutions in carrying out mobility projects for students and staff, and also in cooperation projects with foreign partner institutions.
- Grundtvig: the European programme for adult education supports people and institutions in the field of adult education, specifically with regard to in-service training internationally within Europe and projects between partner organisations from different European countries.
- Youth in Action: the European programme for young people, young adults up to the age of 30, youth organisations and people active in extracurricular youth work promotes non-formal education and exchanges in and with Europe.
- Transversal: the European programme promoting cooperation and transparency supports study visits, networking activities and projects relevant to all levels of education and covering the areas policy cooperation, languages, information and communication technologies, and dissemination and exploitation of project results.
- Euroguidance: the European programme for educational and careers guidance practitioners supports the continuing education and training and networking of all individuals and specialists active in educational and careers guidance.
Under the education agreement Switzerland has set up a national agency responsible for programme implementation. Under the name GO, the ch Stiftung für eidgenössische Zusammenarbeit [ch Foundation for Federal Cooperation] operates the Swiss Competence Centre for Exchange and , which supervises all exchange programmes in Switzerland and inside and outside Europe and receives project proposals and applications for financial support.
The Federal Constitution, the Federal Act on international cooperation in the field of education, vocational training, youth, and promotion of mobility and the Federal Act on the National Languages and Understanding between the Linguistic Communities form the basis for promoting exchange.
In the field of compulsory education the cantons which have signed the Interkantonale Vereinbarung über die Harmonisierung der obligatorischen Schule [Intercantonal Agreement on Harmonisation of Compulsory Education (HarmoS Agreement)] are endeavouring to eliminate educational obstacles to the national and international mobility of the Swiss people. According to the Federal Act on Vocational and Professional Education and Training (VPETA) the Federal Council can, under its own authority, enter into international agreements to promote international cooperation and mobility in vocational training (Article 68 VPETA).
In the higher education sector, under the Federal Act on the promotion of higher education institutions and coordination in the Swiss higher education sector (HFKG) the Federal Council can enter into international treaties on international cooperation and promoting international mobility and on participation in international promotion programmes and projects (Article 66).
Bundesverfassung der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft [Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation]
Bundesgesetz über die Landessprachen und die Verständigung zwischen den Sprachgemeinschaften [Federal Act on the National Languages and Understanding between the Linguistic Communities]
Bundesgesetz über die internationale Zusammenarbeit im Bereich der Bildung, der Berufsbildung, der Jugend und der Mobilitätsförderung [Federal Act on international cooperation in the field of education, vocational training, youth, and promotion of mobility]
Bildungsabkommen über die Beteiligung der Schweiz am Aktionsprogramm "Lebenslanges Lernen" und am Programm "Jugend in Aktion" [Agreement between the European Union and the Swiss Confederation establishing the terms and conditions for the participation of the Swiss Confederation in the Youth in Action programme and in the action programme in the field of lifelong learning]
Bundesgesetz über die Berufsbildung [Federal Act on Vocational and Professional Education and Training]
Interkantonale Vereinbarung über die Harmonisierung der obligatorischen Schule [Intercantonal Agreement on Harmonisation of Compulsory Education]