The Confederation deﬁnes continuing education and training (CET) as non-formal education, (see Federal Act on Continuing Professional Development), i.e. learning in structured programmes outside the formal education system. The state does not define any compulsory content requirements for the award of the leaving certificate, and does not issue any state-recognised diplomas or leaving certificates.
Formal education, by contrast, comprises state-regulated education that takes places as part of compulsory education or leads to an upper secondary level leaving certificate, a tertiary level professional education leaving certificate, or a qualification that is the prerequisite for a state-regulated professional activity.
There is also informal education, which comprises a personal, informal learning process outside a structured teaching/learning relationship, such as self-study and on-the-job learning that is not covered by any regulation. Informal learning involves self-learning processes that take place in immediate life contexts. Self-learning is therefore often incidental, unintentional and unplanned.
All relevant actors in the field of CET are aware of the importance of non-formal and informal CET. Thus the Confederation, cantons and professional organisations noted, in the Mission Statement for the Vocational and Professional Education and Training 2030 initiative, that promoting the process of lifelong learning requires models that credit formally, non-formally and informally acquired competences to formal vocational and professional education and training programmes. The great importance of non-formal education can also be clearly illustrated by the fact that formal education is not sufficient to completely cover the needs of the Swiss labour market.
In Switzerland, there are various options whereby both non-formal and informal education lead to a formal education qualification:
- Vocational education and training (VET) can also be acquired outside of a regulated course of education. The corresponding qualification is obtained through a specific qualification procedure. This qualification procedure can be the final examination defined in the education ordinance, or a so-called “alternative qualification procedure”. Alternative qualification procedures are equivalent to the final examination. The qualification procedure validating educational performance is open to those professions in which the maintaining body has drawn up corresponding regulations which the SERI has recognised. Here, adults prove their competences in a dossier. Other forms can also be split examinations or specific examinations or procedures for adults.
- In the case of Federal Diplomas of Higher Education and Advanced Federal Diplomas of Higher Education at tertiary level, a large proportion of examination candidates attend preparatory courses. However, these courses are not a prerequisite for taking the examinations or obtaining the diplomas. Rather, the prerequisite for admission to the qualification procedure is professional experience, which – together with the theory – is evaluated by means of an examination and leads to a formal qualification.
- The Swiss baccalaureate examination can also be completed with or without prior course attendance.
- In higher education, there are no national regulations for validating non-formally or informally acquired competences. The individual institutions are free to introduce such regulations for individual degree programmes. One exception is the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) regulations for the nationwide recognition for lateral entrants to teacher education. Lateral entrants can be admitted to the training based on the recognition of non-formally and informally acquired competences relevant to the teaching profession. This reduces the number of training credits required by a maximum of one third.
- So-called “industry certificates” also play an important role on the labour market. These are non-formal and non-state-recognised qualifications that are supported by an industry organisation and offered by various continuing education and training institutions. They have been specifically developed to address key labour market challenges in individual industries. The industry certificates provide an entry point into educational processes, particularly for women retraining or returning to work, migrants without formal qualifications, and older employees, and in some cases offer a link to other formal or non-formal education courses.