By the Bologna Coordination Committee of the Rectors’ Conference of the Swiss Universities (CRUS)
The implementation of the Bologna process at Swiss institutions should be seen in the wider context of the far-reaching reforms currently under way for the entire higher education sector that will be put into place by 2008. The main goals are to improve the position of Swiss higher education in the international context, to simplify the highly complex mechanisms of cooperation between federal and cantonal authorities in steering the higher education system, and to enhance transparency and efficiency regarding institutional cooperation and allocation of resources.
Switzerland has one of the highest university densities in the world, with one university for every 614,000 inhabitants. In 2003, 109,333 students were enrolled in the ten cantonal universities and the two federal institutes of technology — a 78 percent rise from the figures in 1980. In 1995, the Federal Council approved the creation of seven universities of applied sciences (37,806 students in 2003), which offer more professionally oriented studies. In addition, Switzerland has 17 cantonal schools for teacher education which train primary and secondary school teachers at university level (around 9500 students in 2003).
Legal responsibility for the Bologna process lies with the Council for Universities of Applied Sciences and the Swiss University Conference  (for the cantonal universities and the federal institutes of technology). Both bodies passed legally binding “Bologna Directives ” in 2002 and 2003. The directives for the two sectors were prepared by the thee rectors’ conferences — Rectors’ Conference of the Swiss Universities  (CRUS), Rectors’ Conference of Swiss Universities of Applied Science  (KFH), and the Swiss Conference of Rectors of Schools for Teacher Education  (SKPH) — in close cooperation with each other in order to assure that the reforms are well interconnected and consistent across the entire tertiary education sector. The political authorities have conferred responsibility for coordinating the implementation of the reforms on the rectors’ conferences. Their activities include the establishment of guidelines, recommendations and codes of best practice regarding general aspects of the reform as well as coordination and support of curricular reform, European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System  (ECTS), admission regulations, mobility, quality assurance and the social aspects including gender equality.
1. Easily Readable and Comparable Degrees
• ECTS and the Diploma Supplement (DS) are integral parts of the new structures of study and must be introduced simultaneously with bachelor’s/master’s degree programs. Thus, ECTS as a transfer and accumulation system is already being used by all Swiss universities in the new programs. Automatic delivery of the DS is already well under way in eight out of the twelve Swiss universities; for more information see: http://www.ects.ch/franz/enic/Diploma/Dip-Sup.html .
• The Swiss Information Centre for Academic Recognition Matters/Swiss ENIC issues (non-binding) recommendations on the recognition of Swiss and foreign academic diplomas. It is located at the Rectors’ Conference of the Swiss Universities; for more information see: http://www.crus.ch/engl/enic/index.htm.
• In 1998, Switzerland ratified the Lisbon Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region, which was developed by the Council of Europe and UNESCO.
2. Degree Structure
- The new system is based by law on two cycles (bachelor’s/master’s degree) and, consequently, will be the same for all higher education institutions (universities, universities of applied sciences, teacher education). The length of the two cycles is also regulated: the first cycle (bachelor’s degree) lasts 3 years (180 ECTS credits) and the second (master’s degree) 1.5–2 years (90–120 ECTS credits). The bachelor’s and master’s degree programs together replace the present diploma program. It is not possible to offer traditional and new programs in parallel.
- Good progress is being made with the introduction of the two-cycle degree system and a number of universities apply the two-tier structure to all new study programs, while others are partly doing so or are about to offer their first bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. In the winter semester 2004/05, 152 bachelor’s and 126 master’s degree programs were offered by the 12 Swiss research universities. The bachelor’s and master’s degree programs represent 53 percent of all study programs offered by the research universities during this period. According to the Swiss legal framework, all universities must have finished implementation of the new system by 2010, but the remaining traditional programs will already have been replaced by the start of the academic year 2006/07.
- The number of students enrolled in bachelor’s or master’s degree programs is rapidly increasing. Whereas in 2002/03 less than 10 percent of the overall student population were studying in bachelor’s or master’s degree programs, this percentage increased to 15 percent by 2003/04 (bachelor’s degree programs: 12,610 students; master’s degree programs: 858 students; traditional “long” programs: 74,333 students). As of academic year 2004/05 the numbers have almost doubled: 21,967 students were enrolled in bachelor’s and 3,994 students in master’s degree programs, representing 29 percent of the total student population (traditional programs: 63,096 students).
- The universities of applied sciences will start their bachelor’s degree programs in autumn 2005 in a coordinated manner. Master’s degree programs are intended to begin three years later.
An overview of the Swiss Higher Education System is available at: http://www.crus.ch/docs/enic/System_f.pdf.
Stage I and II: At the 12 scientific universities, the traditional study structure is a program lasting 4–5 years leading to a first academic degree. In reality the total length of study is usually 1 or 2 years longer. The title depends on the field of study: i.e. Lizenziat/Licence or Diploma/Diplôme.
At the seven universities of applied sciences, the traditional study program lasts four years.
Stage III: The final stage of higher education usually leads to the Doktorat/ Doctorat (doctoral degree). Admission to a doctoral degree program requires a first academic degree with good grades. Earning a doctorate requires the writing of a dissertation and the completion of an oral examination and takes between 3 and 4 years. Under the old system, no coursework is generally required for this degree.
At the doctoral level, some universities also offer a program of postgraduate study lasting 1–2 years which leads to a qualification known as: Diplôme d’Etudes Approfondies (DEA), Diplôme d’Etudes Supérieures Spécialisées (DESS) or Nachdiplomstudium.
New System (Tiered Study Programs)
Stage I: In both universities and universities of applied sciences, the bachelor’s degree is granted at the end of the first cycle of university study which lasts 3 years (180 ECTS credits).
Stage II : The second cycle lasts 1.5–2 years (90–120 ECTS credits). A bachelor’s degree is the prerequisite for admission to a master’s degree program. Graduates with a bachelor’s degree from a Swiss university are eligible for admission to a university master’s degree program in the corresponding discipline, without any additional requirements. Admission of students from another discipline or another type of university may be granted after meeting additional requirements.
Universities of applied sciences will offer master’s degree programs from 2008.
Stage III : Successful completion of the master’s degree and good grades are the prerequisites for admission to a doctoral program. The structure and content of the doctorate is set independently by the individual universities, but there is a clear tendency towards more structured doctoral programs with coursework. Doctorates can only be awarded by the 12 research universities, which includes the two federal institutes of technology.
All universities and universities of applied sciences offer a number of further education programs: master’s degree of advanced studies (one year of full-time study – 60 ECTS credits), Nachdiplomstudiengänge and executive master’s degree, for professional development and continuing education.
3. Credit Transfer
- The use of the ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) must by law be introduced simultaneously with bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. This regulation is already in effect for all bachelor’s/master’s degree programs offered by the Swiss universities, and covers 30 percent of the students enrolled at Swiss universities; for more information see: http://www.ects.ch .
- The ECTS system will also be used in continuing education (master’s degree of advanced studies: 60 ECTS credits, advanced studies diploma: 30 ECTS credits, certificate: 10 ECTS credits).
- In the years from 1990 to 2000 the number of university students traveling abroad to study doubled. Close to a quarter of all students who finished their studies in the year 2000 had spent some time at a host university. This increase was mainly due to short stays of one to two semesters at host institutions. In the academic year 2003/2004 a total of 1,489 students from the 12 scientific universities (ten cantonal universities and two federal institutes of technology) went abroad for an ERASMUS  study period. This is equivalent to 1.4 percent of the entire student population (109,062 students) at the scientific universities in the year 2003/2004. The most popular destinations for Swiss students participating in the ERASMUS program in 2003/2004 were Germany, Spain and France.
- Although Switzerland is not a member of the European Union (EU), the Swiss Parliament approved transitional measures to enable the indirect participation of Switzerland in the EU’s educational, professional training and youth programs. Bilateral agreements with the EU will, on the one hand, further enhance participation in EU education programs and, on the other hand, make it easier for foreign students to take up residence in Switzerland (e.g. obtaining residence permits, health insurance). All Swiss universities have established cooperation agreements with various universities (for instance within Socrates/Erasmus or so-called co-tutelle programs offering common doctoral studies) or participate in university networks such as UNICA , IDEA League , UNITECH , AUF , EUCOR and CREPUQ. Recommendations on how to systematically integrate opportunities for mobility in bachelor’s and master’s degree study programs have been elaborated.
5. Quality Assurance
- The Center of Accreditation and Quality Assurance of the Swiss Universities (OAQ) is an independent body which performs the following tasks: it defines quality assurance (QA) requirements and regularly checks compliance, prepares guidelines for the national accreditation procedures, and conducts accreditation procedures as well as other quality assessments (evaluations, audits) on behalf of the Swiss University Conference and the Federal Government. The institutions are expected to establish QA systems that guarantee high quality in education and research. The political authorities have mandated the OAQ to check the universities and federal institutes of technology every four years by dint of so-called “quality audits” to determine whether their QA systems are compatible with internationally accepted standards and whether they produce high-quality products.
- The Federal Office for Professional Education and Technology  is responsible for peer reviews of the universities of applied sciences, which are linked to the recognition procedures of these higher education institutions. All study programs were evaluated in 2001–2002 and accredited by the federal government in 2003.
- For the universities of applied sciences for teacher education, the Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education  defines minimal standards for admission requirements, length and structure of programs, and the content of studies. Recognition is granted to these institutions on the basis of a dossier prepared by the institution and evaluation by external experts.
- A system of accreditation has been in place since 2002. It is a voluntary procedure open to academic institutions and their study programs, both from the public and private sectors. It consists of a three-step procedure (self-evaluation, external evaluation, decision on accreditation). The accreditation is based on an assessment of compliance with predefined, internationally accepted quality standards. The accreditation decision is made by the Swiss University Conference. An unconditional positive decision is granted for seven years.
- As a matter of principle, international peers participate in quality audits and evaluation procedures at institutional level for all types of institutions. The OAQ itself is active in various European QA networks such as the Joint Quality Initiative , the European Consortium for Accreditation , the regional network D-A-CH and the European Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education  (in the capacity of observer). The OAQ is also a member of several QA networks and organisations at the international level (INQAAHE , UNESCO/OECD forum, etc.).
6. Promotion of European Dimensions in Higher Education
- Doctoral students from all disciplines enrolled at Swiss universities can apply for joint doctoral studies (so-called: “cotutelles-de-these”) with French and Italian universities.
- Interest in establishing joint study programs at the national and international level has been steadily increasing over recent years, but the number of such programs actually on offer is still limited. The main feature of joint programs is the mobility of students; generally, students attend at least some courses and often spend one or more semesters at the partner institution. Such joint programs are already available at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and at the University of St. Gallen (at master’s degree level).
- Directives for the coordinated renewal of teaching at Swiss universities within the framework of the Bologna process (Bologna directives) of 4 December 2003, Swiss University Conference  (SUK/CUS)
- Switzerland National Report 2004-2005 (Bergen Conference)
- Studierende an den universitären Hochschulen“, 2003/2004 , Swiss Federal Statistical Office, Neuchâtel, 2004.