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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Types of higher education institutions


7.Higher education

7.1Types of higher education institutions

Last update: 27 November 2023

Higher education institutions


There are ten cantonal universities and two Federal Institutes of Technology (FIT). The universities in Basel, Bern, Lucerne, St. Gallen and Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ) are in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, while the universities of Geneva, Lausanne and Neuchâtel and the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) are in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. The University of Fribourg is in the bilingual canton of Fribourg (French and German), and the Università della Svizzera italiana in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino.

The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (Institut universitaire des hautes études internationales et du développement [IHEID]) in Geneva, and the Distance Learning University Switzerland are also considered to be university-level institutions.

The universities organise their courses of study in a three-year Bachelor degree (full-time study) and a Master programme lasting one-and-a-half to two years (full-time study).

Students are provided with basic, research-based knowledge at Bachelor level, and with in-depth, specialised and research-based knowledge at Master level. Every university Bachelor degree offered by a Swiss university provides for a seamless transition into a Master degree programme. The Master degree is the standard qualification. After the Master degree students may commence a Doctoral programme.

Universities of applied sciences

There are eight (cantonal or intercantonal) universities of applied sciences recognised by the Confederation. These are distributed over eight Swiss regions in multiple locations. The Confederation has also recognised one private university of applied sciences.

The universities of applied sciences offer their courses of study as a three-year Bachelor programme (full-time study); the Bachelor degree qualifies graduates for a profession and is the standard qualification.

At the Bachelor level the students are taught specialist practical knowledge. The courses are closely linked to a profession and the corresponding fields of activities and prepare students directly for entry into professional life.

Following the successful completion of the Bachelor programme, students may complete a Master programme lasting one-and-a-half to two years (full-time study). The Master programme teaches in-depth, specialised and research-based knowledge. In the music sector, most Bachelor graduates continue their studies at Master level.

The science-based vocational and professional training and professional development of teaching staff and of experts in the field of special education is mainly carried out at universities of teacher education. Given the practical nature of their courses and their research in this specific vocational area, the universities of teacher education are classed as universities of applied sciences. The cantons, which are the maintaining bodies for the universities of teacher education, are responsible for their organisation and funding. The Confederation does not pay any basic contributions to the universities of teacher education. 

Given the cantonal sovereignty over education, the cantons adopt rules on teacher training; to ensure access to the profession the qualifications are recognised throughout Switzerland by the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK).

Tertiary level professional education

Colleges of higher education 

Colleges of higher education offer courses of tertiary level professional education regulated by the Confederation. They provide students with the skills needed to perform technical and managerial tasks in a particular specialist area. Alongside specialist and theoretical training at school, the accompanying professional experience (part-time study) and the internships integrated into the training (full-time study) form an important component of acquiring the extensive ability to act in a vocational capacity. Full-time training lasts a minimum of two years including internships, and training undertaken parallel to employment takes at least three years. There are 52 recognised branches of study offered by 400 different state-run or private educational institutions throughout Switzerland. For admission to colleges of higher education, in addition to the upper secondary level leaving certificate (Federal VET Diploma, Federal Vocational Baccalaureate, upper secondary specialised school certificate, baccalaureate) a number of years of professional experience and an aptitude test may be asked for.

Federal and Advanced Federal Diplomas of Higher Education

Tertiary level professional education offers, in addition to the colleges of higher education, two different types of examinations:

  • Federal Diploma of Higher Education examinations are aimed at those with several years of professional experience who already have in-depth professional abilities and wish to specialise in their area of activity;
  • Advanced Federal Diplomas of Higher Education examinations are geared to proving professional expertise and/or company management ability.

Federal Diploma and Advanced Federal Diploma examinations (Berufsprüfungen und höhere Fachprüfungen) - traditionally known as master examinations in commercial and industrial occupations - are held by professional organisations (OdA) active throughout Switzerland. These guarantee a focus on the needs of the labour market and ensure a direct relation to professional practice.

There are currently around 220 examinations for Federal Diplomas of Higher Education and 170 examinations for Advanced Federal Diplomas of Higher Education. The preparatory courses for the examinations are not regulated and are not subject to state control. Depending on the area of study the preparatory courses may be held in the form of evening classes, at weekends or on working days. They are designed exclusively as part-time courses to be attended while in employment, and last 3 to 4 semesters. In principle admission requires a Federal VET Diploma or another at least comparable qualification in conjunction with several years of professional experience in the field relevant to the examination. If there is both a Federal and an Advanced Federal Diploma of Higher Education in the same professional field, the Advanced Federal Diploma is the higher qualification. In such cases a Federal Diploma or a college of higher education diploma can form the prerequisite for admission to an Advanced Federal Diploma.