The Swiss education system is characterised by federalism, and organised in a decentralised manner. The primary responsibility for education lies with the cantons. They are responsible for the education system, except where the Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation (Article 61 ff.) declares the Confederation, or the Confederation and cantons together, to be competent.
In the compulsory education sector (primary level including pre-school or the first learning cycle, and lower secondary level) the cantons and their communes are responsible for regulation and enforcement.
In the post-compulsory education sector (upper secondary level and tertiary level) the regulatory competence lies both with the cantons and with the Confederation. Except for the universities of the Confederation, the cantons are responsible for enforcement.
Vocational training (vocational education and training, tertiary level professional education, and job-related CET) is regulated by the Confederation. Here, too, the cantons are responsible for enforcement.
In matters which require a joint solution, the cantons coordinate between each other. For some areas the Federal Constitution lays down an obligation for the cantons to coordinate (e.g. coordination of the cantons in the compulsory education sector, collaboration and cooperation between the Confederation and cantons in the higher education sector).
For childcare facilities and services (child day-care facilities, day-care families and informal care services) please refer to the chapter on Early Childhood Education and Care.
Under the Federal Constitution (Article 62) the cantons ensure the provision of an adequate primary school education that is available to all children. Compulsory and non-denominational teaching is managed or supervised by the state. At state schools, lessons are free of charge.
The cantons and their communes are responsible for the regulation of and enforcement in the compulsory education sector (primary level including pre-school or the first learning cycle, and lower secondary level). Intercantonal and cantonal education law forms the legal basis for the compulsory education sector. In addition, the Federal Constitution (Article 62(4)) obliges the cantons to harmonise, by means of coordination, school entry age, compulsory school attendance, the duration and objectives of the different levels of education, and the transition from one level to another.
Post-compulsory education sector
Secondary sector: upper secondary level
At upper secondary level, which is divided into general education and vocational and professional education and training courses, regulatory responsibility lies with both the cantons and the Confederation.
The general education schools incorporate baccalaureate schools and upper secondary specialised schools. Alongside some private providers, most general education schools are maintained by the cantons.
The Confederation and the cantons together ensure that the cantonal baccalaureates are equivalent and comply with the national and intercantonal minimum requirements. To this end they have each adopted their own, but identical, regulations on recognition: baccalaureates are recognised under the Verordnung über die Anerkennung von gymnasialen Maturitätsausweisen [Ordinance of on the recognition of baccalaureates] or the Reglement der EDK über die Anerkennung von gymnasialen Maturitätsausweisen [EDK regulation on the recognition of baccalaureates].
Upper secondary specialised schools
The Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) is responsible for the recognition of upper secondary specialised schools throughout Switzerland. Recognition of upper secondary specialised schools and their leaving certificates is carried out on the basis of the intercantonal diploma recognition agreement (Interkantonale Vereinbarung über die Anerkennung von Ausbildungsabschlüssen [Intercantonal Agreement on the Recognition of Educational Qualifications]) and the Reglement über die Anerkennung der Abschlüsse von Fachmittelschulen [Regulation on the Recognition of Certificates from Upper Secondary Specialised Schools] which is based on the Intercantonal Agreement, and the related guidelines.
- Vocational education and training (VET), including the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate, is regulated by the Confederation (Bundesgesetz über die Berufsbildung [Federal Act on Vocational and Professional Education and Training]). The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) adopts education ordinances which regulate, inter alia, the subject and duration of basic education and training, its objectives, requirements and content. The Confederation, cantons and professional organisations share responsibility for VET. The cantons are responsible for implementing vocational and professional education and training (enforcement of Swiss federal law) and are, alongside private providers, the maintaining bodies for the education institutions.
At tertiary level, which is divided into a higher education sector and a tertiary level professional education sector, both the cantons and the Confederation have legislative powers.
Higher education sector
Under Article 63a of the Federal Constitution, the Confederation and the cantons are jointly responsible for coordinating and guaranteeing quality in the higher education sector.
To implement this constitutional obligation the Confederation adopted the Federal Act on Funding and Coordination of the Higher Education Sector and the associate Ordinance, and the cantons adopted the Interkantonale Vereinbarung über den Hochschulbereich [Intercantonal Agreement on Higher Education (Higher Education Agreement)].
The Confederation and the cantons have also signed a cooperation agreement; they coordinate notably through the Schweizerische Hochschulkonferenz [Swiss University Conference].
The two Federal Institutes of Technology (FIT) come within the competence of the Confederation (Federal Act on the Federal Institutes of Technology [FIT Act]). The 10 cantonal universities come within the competence of the canton in which each is located.
There are eight state-run universities of applied sciences. The Confederation and the cantons together regulate the universities of applied sciences in their sphere of competence. The cantons are responsible for enforcement and supervision. There is also one private university of applied sciences.
The universities of teacher education fall within the regulatory competence of the cantons and are subject to cantonal and intercantonal regulations. There are currently 14 legally independent cantonal or intercantonal universities of teacher education. There are also two universities of teacher education which form part of universities of applied sciences.
The maintaining bodies for the universities of applied sciences and the universities of teacher education are the cantons or groups of cantons.
Tertiary level professional education sector
The tertiary level professional education sector covers the non-university sector of the tertiary level, i.e. the Federal Diploma of Higher Education and the Advanced Federal Diploma of Higher Education, and the colleges of higher education. Tertiary level professional education is regulated by the Confederation (Bundesgesetz über die Berufsbildung [Federal Act on Vocational and Professional Education and Training, VPETA]). It is managed federally in partnership between the Confederation, the cantons and the professional organisations. The cantons are responsible for implementing vocational training on the basis of federal legislation.
Federal Diploma of Higher Education and Advanced Federal Diploma of Higher Education
The competent professional organisations regulate the admission requirements, learning content, qualification procedures, diplomas and titles. The regulations are subject to approval by the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI). The cantons can offer preparatory courses for the Federal Diploma of Higher Education and the Advanced Federal Diploma of Higher Education.
The preparatory courses for the Federal Diploma of Higher Education and the Advanced Federal Diploma of Higher Education are not regulated by the state and are not subject to state supervision.
Colleges of higher education
SERI is the competent authority for recognising courses of education. The cantons supervise college of higher education courses.
The recognition requirements and procedures are governed by the Verordnung des WBF über die Mindestvorschriften für die Anerkennung von Bildungsgängen und Nachdiplomstudien der höheren Fachschulen [EAER Ordinance on the Minimum Requirements for the Recognition of Courses of Study and Post-Graduate Programmes at colleges of higher education].
Continuing education and training
Continuing education and training (CET) is largely market-based. There is a wide range of offers. The private sector plays an important role as the maintaining bodies and providers of CET and in its funding.
The Confederation and the cantons have a largely subsidiary role.
With the articles on education in the Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation, the Confederation was mandated to specify principles governing CET (Article 64a). The Bundesgesetz über die Weiterbildung [Federal Act on Continuing Education and Training] strengthens personal responsibility for life-long learning, improves equal access to CET and ensures consistency in federal legislation.
General CET is regulated differently in terms of legal provisions and organisation depending on the canton. Some cantons have a specific CET act.
The Bundesgesetz über die Berufsbildung [Federal Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act] regulates continuing professional development (CPD). This connects with both vocational education and training (VET) and tertiary level professional education. At the level of the cantons CPD is regulated in the cantonal laws implementing the Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act (VPETA).