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Eurogates

Switzerland: Senate supports funding for foreign students

27 May 2006, 14:54

The Senate has backed a plan calling on the government to cover the costs of foreign students at Swiss universities. Swiss higher education institutions –10 universities, 2 federal institutes of t…

The Senate has backed a plan calling on the government to cover the costs of foreign students at Swiss universities. Swiss higher education institutions –10 universities, 2 federal institutes of technology and 7 institutes of applied sciences – enjoy an excellent reputation.

It is therefore not surprising that Switzerland has, together with Australia, the highest rate of foreign students registered for courses (23 %). This year 35,000 foreign students follow education in this land.

Over the last years these "jewels" in the academic crown have been facing growing funding problems, due to a rise in costs, which are already in excess of SFr4 billion ($3 billion) a year. One of the main reasons is a steady increase in the number of students.

Over the next 10 years a further 20 % increase is forecast. Another factor is that scientific research is becoming more sophisticated. If Swiss universities are to compete with their counterparts in other countries, more investment is required. At present, the average cost of a university course is SFr20,000 a year for humanities, SFr40,000 for scientific subjects and over SFr60,000 for medical studies.

These costs are borne by the taxpayer because all the main institutions of higher education are publicly funded. The government funds the two federal institutes of technology, while the cantons pay for the universities. But for foreign students, the cantons that have universities do not receive any contribution from the students' countries of origin.

"We are therefore asking the government to act as a 27th canton and pay a similar contribution for foreign students," says Fuchs. According to the promoter of the proposal, "it is the federal government's duty to cover the costs of foreign students, given that the whole of Switzerland benefits". The argument is that foreign students form a pool of gifted, well-qualified researchers, on which the Swiss labour market draws freely, and opening the doors to foreign students enables young Swiss people to attend higher education institutions in other countries.

Equally controversial is the proposal to increase university fees from the current average of SFr1,500 a year. Nor do most Swiss university rectors support the idea of imposing higher fees on foreign students, an idea so far adopted only by Lugano University, Stauffacher explains."We do not want our own students to be discriminated against abroad. And it should not be forgotten that exchanges involving foreign students have always been fundamental to the development of Swiss universities."

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