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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Quality assurance in higher education


11.Quality assurance

11.2Quality assurance in higher education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Higher education institutions

Responsible bodies

All higher education institutions are obliged to undergo institutional accreditation (2015 Federal Act on Funding and Coordination of the Higher Education Sector, HEdA). The Swiss accreditation council was therefore created as a new joint organisation of the Confederation and the cantons for accreditation and quality assurance in the Swiss higher education landscape. In its decisions it relies on the expertise of the Swiss Agency of Accreditation and Quality Assurance (AAQ). The AAQ is a member of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) and of the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAHEE), and is registered on the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR).

The cantons supervise the cantonal universities, the universities of applied sciences and the universities of teacher education. The Confederation supervises the Federal Institutes of Technology (FIT). The autonomy of the universities has been consistently expanded since the 1990s. In some higher education institutions, higher education councils are responsible for the direct supervision of the universities as their decision-making and supervisory bodies.

The management and supervisory functions for the universities of applied sciences and universities of teacher education can differ depending on the institution and can be complex, particularly when several cantons are involved in maintaining the institution. A strategic managing body (e.g. the university of applied sciences council) undertakes supervisory functions with regard to the operational management (management board, administration).

As part of the Bologna Process, Switzerland has declared that it is stepping up international cooperation in the sphere of quality assurance and systematically establishing quality assurance systems at institutional, national and European level. The Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance were also adopted in this context. Moreover, a register of trusted quality assurance agencies (European Quality Assurance Register, EQAR) was established, in which Switzerland participates.


Approaches and methods for quality assurance

Institutional level


Accreditation for all higher education institutions was first regulated on a uniform basis in 2015. The legal basis is the Federal Act on Funding and Coordination of the Higher Education Sector (HEdA). It commits the higher education institutions to institutional accreditation by 2022 at the latest. All higher education institutions, including private providers, have to undergo the same accreditation procedure if they wish to use national proprietary names such as “university”, “university of applied sciences”, “university of teacher education”, or a derivative. For state-run universities and universities of applied sciences institutional accreditation is, moreover, a prerequisite for receiving federal contributions.

Programme accreditation is essentially voluntary. However, mandatory accreditation now applies to medical initial and continuing professional development courses which lead to a Swiss Federal Diploma or to CPD qualifications, and training courses for seven health professions (Bundesgesetz über die universitären Medizinalberufe [Federal Act on University Courses for Medical Professions] and Gesundheitsberufegesetz [Health Professions Act] respectively).

Institutional accreditation and voluntary programme accreditation are two formal processes which examine, using defined standards (Guidelines of the Higher Education Council for accreditation within the higher education sector), whether institutions and/or degree programmes meet the quality requirements in teaching and research. An accreditation procedure is carried out in three stages. First a higher education institution carries out a self-assessment. Then an external assessment is performed by an independent group of experts from the Swiss Agency of Accreditation and Quality Assurance (AAQ). Based on the results, the Swiss accreditation council then takes an accreditation decision. Institutional accreditation must be renewed every seven years.

Recognition of diplomas

Previously, universities of teacher education did not have any institutional accreditation. Under the Federal Act on Funding and Coordination of the Higher Education Sector (HEdA) universities of teacher education now also have to be accredited. The Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) will continue to decide on the recognition of diplomas leading to admission to the profession. Throughout Switzerland, it regulates the recognition of teaching degrees and of the school-based professions in the field of special needs education. To this end the EDK checks whether the degree programmes meet certain minimum requirements namely as regards the training objectives and content, scope of studies, admission requirements and qualifications of lecturers and of instructors specialised in the practical side of teacher training. This ensures a minimum quality of training courses in the field of teacher education and facilitates freedom of movement.

The recognition of diplomas for teachers in vocational and professional education and training (VET schools, colleges of higher education) is the responsibility of the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI). Minimum requirements relating to educational contents, scope of studies and admission requirements, and the recognition procedure, are governed by the Vocational and Professional Education and Training Ordinance (Verordnung über die Berufsbildung, VPETO).

Rankings of higher education institutions

Higher education institutions can use ranking systems to compare themselves with other Swiss and international institutions in the higher education sector. The definition of quality, quality assessment criteria and their weighting or the chosen method are key factors in the ranking systems, and can produce different rankings accordingly.

Internal evaluation

Internal evaluation is a component of quality assurance and quality development at all higher education institution types. The existence of an internal quality assurance system is therefore a prerequisite for admission to institutional accreditation. The value of this internal quality assurance system is being examined within the framework of institutional accreditation by the AAQ.

For the universities of applied sciences, a general quality management system for all universities of applied sciences has been developed: based on the EFQM Excellence Model (the model of the European Foundation for Quality Management), an evaluation checklist (Bewertungskatalog) was developed for universities of applied sciences as an instrument for self-assessment, and was completely revised in 2014.

For the universities of teacher education recommendations on the planning, development and implementation of a quality management system have been in place since 2014 (Empfehlungen für die Planung, Entwicklung und Implementierung eines Qualitätsmanagementsystems). These recommendations are also guided by the EFQM model, but leave the universities of teacher education free to choose which quality management system to use.


Tertiary level professional education (outside the higher education sector)

Responsible bodies

All vocational and professional education and training providers are obliged under the Federal Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act (Berufsbildungsgesetz, VPETA) to ensure quality development.
 The Confederation itself promotes quality development, sets quality standards and monitors their compliance.

Colleges of higher education must undergo a federal recognition procedure if they wish to award federally recognised qualifications. The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) is the competent authority for recognition.

The cantons supervise the colleges of higher education. Supervision is usually carried out by supervisory committees.

In the case of the Federal and Advanced Federal Diplomas of Higher Education, only the examination regulations are regulated. The SERI approves the examination regulations and is responsible for supervising the examinations.


Approaches and methods for quality assurance

Institutional level

The conditions for recognition include adapting the courses of study to the framework curricula which apply throughout Switzerland and implementing approaches and methods for quality assurance. The recognition procedure is currently defined in two sets of guidelines (Bildungsanbieter). It usually covers the implementation of an entire course of study. On behalf of the SERI, experts examine whether a course of education meets the prerequisites for recognition. They submit a final report and an application to the SERI. The SERI subsequently makes a decision on recognition.

Colleges of higher education, like all vocational and professional education and training providers, have to ensure their quality development. As part of the recognition procedure, they have to provide information on their internal quality assurance and quality development system. They can develop their own quality assurance models or make use of an existing model (inter alia ISO certification, EduQua, EFQM Excellence Model).


System level

In tertiary level professional education examination regulations for the Federal and Advanced Federal Diplomas of Higher Education and the framework curricula for the colleges of higher education are tried-and-tested quality assurance instruments.

The maintaining body for a Federal or Advanced Federal Diploma of Higher Education (usually a professional organisation active throughout Switzerland) defines the content, design and duration of the examination in the examination regulation and adapts it to current developments if necessary. The SERI checks the examination regulation and approves it. It is also responsible for supervising the implementation of the examination.

The around 35 framework curricula for the colleges of higher education regulate, inter alia, the professional profile, the competences to be achieved and the content and requirements of the qualification procedure. The framework curricula are drawn up by the professional organisations in cooperation with the colleges of higher education, and are approved by the SERI.