The Swiss education system is characterised by federalism, and organised in a decentralised manner. The main responsibility for education lies with the 26 cantons. As a result, depending on the canton and the school level, different rules apply to quality assurance. Thus both external evaluations and internal evaluations are mandatory in some cases and voluntary in others.
Swiss education monitoring
For the education system as a whole, since 2006 the Federal Constitution (Article 61a) has stipulated that the Confederation and the cantons, within the scope of their responsibilities, jointly ensure the high quality of the Swiss education area. The Confederation and the cantons have therefore set up the Swiss education monitoring process as a key instrument for this cooperation (Bildungsmonitoring).
The Swiss education monitoring process is a cyclical process. Since 2010 a Swiss Education Report has been published every four years. It brings together the latest knowledge of the education system. The Report includes data from research, statistics and administration, and covers all levels of education, from compulsory education to continuing professional development (CPD), but not childcare. The Education Report is an important source of information for all players and decision-makers in the education system. The Swiss Coordination Centre for Research in Education (SCRE) is responsible for producing the Education Report.
Based on the latest knowledge from these national education reports, in 2011, 2015 and 2019 the Confederation and the cantons laid down joint education policy objectives for the Swiss education area. Their achievement must – in the long term – be addressed at national or intercantonal level.
Early childhood and school education
The heterogeneity of quality assurance is greater in the early childhood and compulsory school education sector than in the subsequent levels. The reason for this is that the cantons and their municipalities are virtually solely responsible here.
For childcare for children under four, the Swiss Civil Code (Article 316) and the Swiss Federal Ordinance on the Placement of Children in Foster Care and for Adoption (FCAO) provide relatively few guidelines at national level. They mainly regulate the registration and approval requirements, and supervision. The cantons are responsible for the specific application of these provisions.
In recent years the cantons and communes have significantly expanded childcare. Following this quantitative expansion, the focus is increasingly on topics such as the quality of the offers. For some time, there have been calls for childcare facilities to offer a stronger educational orientation. In connection with debate about too few and insufficiently trained staff, as well as precarious working conditions, in recent years political demands have also been made for more public funding for childcare, greater employer involvement and/or the integration of childcare into education policy.
The cantons are responsible for compulsory education (see Article 62 of the Federal Constitution). In their respective school and education acts, they regulate inter alia the state supervision of educational institutions. Many cantons have included specific standards for quality development and assurance in their school and education acts (Normen zur Qualitätsentwicklung und -sicherung). The Intercantonal Agreement on Harmonisation of Compulsory Education (HarmoS Agreement) also regulates instruments for system development and quality assurance (Interkantonale Vereinbarung über die Harmonisierung der obligatorischen Schule).
While the majority of cantons in German-speaking Switzerland ensure quality through a combination of external school evaluation, internal school quality management and school supervision, in the French-speaking part of Switzerland cantonal performance tests (épreuves communes, épreuves cantonales or épreuves de référence) are widespread. The aim of these tests is, in addition to individual positioning and support for pupils, also quality assurance and development in the schools.
At overall level, in the last ten years a great deal has been done with regard to the harmonisation of quality efforts in compulsory education, with the definition and subsequent review of national education objectives, as well as the development of common language-regional curricula and teaching materials.
At upper-secondary level, the joint responsibility of the Confederation and the cantons has led to greater uniformity in the rules regarding quality assurance.
Switzerland-wide recognition of the qualifications of upper secondary level general education schools (baccalaureate schools and upper secondary specialised school) ensures minimum quality standards. The Confederation and the cantons are jointly responsible for baccalaureates. The legal basis is the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) Regulation on the Recognition of Baccalaureates (MAV) or the corresponding Ordinance of the Confederation (MAR), which contain identical rules for baccalaureates (Reglement der EDK über die Anerkennung von gymnasialen Maturitätsausweisen [MAR]; Verordnung über die Anerkennung von gymnasialen Maturitätsausweisen [MAV]). The cantons alone are responsible for the upper secondary specialised school leaving certificates. The Regulation on the Recognition of Certificates from Upper Secondary Specialised Schools (Reglement über die Anerkennung der Abschlüsse von Fachmittelschulen) serves as the legal basis, together with a number of guidelines. In their cantonal education acts, the cantons also regulate the organisation of the general education schools and the courses offered by them. Most of these cantonal education acts today also contain clear legal standards relating to quality assurance and development (Normen zur Qualitätsentwicklung und -sicherung).
Following a national evaluation of the baccalaureate in 2008 (EVAMAR II), the Confederation and the cantons set the goal of ensuring – also in the long term – examination-free access to university for holders of the baccalaureate, a specific feature of the Swiss education system. As a result, in 2016 the EDK integrated basic subject-specific competences for the general ability to study in the first language and mathematics into the framework curriculum for baccalaureate schools, and adopted recommendations to ensure, in the long term, the admission to higher education with the baccalaureate without the need for any further examinations. A project to further develop the baccalaureate is currently under way, launched jointly by the Confederation and the cantons. The aim is to update the framework curriculum of 1994 and the 1995 MAR and MAV, which together form the basis of education at the baccalaureate schools.
The Confederation and the cantons are jointly responsible for vocational education and training (VET). Legislation is primarily the responsibility of the Confederation. The Federal Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act (VPETA) and the Vocational and Professional Education and Training Ordinance (VPETO) form the key legal bases here (Bundesgesetz über die Berufsbildung; Verordnung über die Berufsbildung). The cantons implement federal legislation and are responsible for supervision in particular. They regulate this in their cantonal vocational and professional education and training acts. In almost all cantons, these include clear legal standards relating to quality assurance and development (Normen zur Qualitätsentwicklung und -sicherung).
The alliance partners in vocational and professional education and training (Confederation, cantons and professional organisations) have launched the “Vocational and Professional Education and Training 2030” initiative to work together on the further development of this area. Through its projects the initiative focuses on digitalisation and new learning technologies inter alia. In addition, the general education teaching in VET is to be geared to future requirements and the framework curricula for those responsible for VET are to be revised.
The Confederation and the cantons are jointly responsible for coordinating and guaranteeing quality in the Swiss higher education sector (Article 63a of the Federal Constitution). On this basis in 2015 the Federal Act on Funding and Coordination of the Higher Education Sector (HEdA) was brought into force. Quality assurance and quality development are anchored in this Act. It obliges the higher education institutions among other things to set up quality assurance systems and undergo institutional accreditation.
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) govern the specific features of supervision and of quality assurance and quality development.
The teaching professions are also regulated by the cantons (with the exception of the training of those responsible for VET). The Intercantonal Agreement on the Recognition of Educational Qualifications (Interkantonale Vereinbarung über die Anerkennung von Ausbildungsabschlüssen) and the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) regulations on recognition govern the professional recognition of teaching degrees and of the school-based professions in the field of special needs education. Recognition of leaving qualifications involves examining whether the courses of study meet the minimum requirements laid down by the legal bases. The EDK is responsible for implementing the recognition procedures and for recognising diplomas.
Tertiary level professional education (outside the higher education sector)
Tertiary level professional education is primarily regulated by the Confederation. The Federal Act on Vocational and Professional Education and Training (Bundesgesetz über die Berufsbildung, Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act, VPETA), the Vocational and Professional Education and Training Ordinance (VPETO, Verordnung über die Berufsbildung) and the EAER Ordinance on the Minimum Requirements for the Recognition of Courses of Study and Post-Graduate Programmes at Colleges of Higher Education (Verordnung des WBF über Mindestvorschriften für die Anerkennung von Bildungsgängen und Nachdiplomstudien der höheren Fachschulen) form the key legal bases.
The cantons implement federal legislation and supervise the colleges of higher education in particular. They regulate this in their cantonal vocational and professional education and training acts. In the case of the Federal and Advanced Federal Diplomas of Higher Education only the examination regulations are regulated. The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) approves these and is responsible for supervising the examinations.
General and professional adult education and training
Continuing professional development (CPD) is largely offered by private bodies and is market-based. It takes place outside the formal, state-regulated education system and is not usually subject to state supervision. The Federal Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act (Bundesgesetz über die Berufsbildung, VPETA) and the Federal Act on Continuing Professional Development of 2014 (Bundesgesetz über die Weiterbildung) assign responsibility for quality assurance and quality development primarily to CPD providers. There is no national public-sector system to control quality assurance and development by CPD providers.