WENR, August 2005: Implementation of the Bologna Declaration in Switzerland


Legislative Framework

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 [2] (for the cantonal universities and the federal institutes of technology). Both bodies passed legally binding “Bologna Directives [3]” in 2002 and 2003. The directives for the two sectors were prepared by the thee rectors’ conferences Rectors’ Conference of the Swiss Universities [4] (CRUS), Rectors’ Conference of Swiss Universities of Applied Science [5] (KFH), and the Swiss Conference of Rectors of Schools for Teacher Education [6] (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 [7] (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 [8].
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

An overview of the Swiss Higher Education System is available at: http://www.crus.ch/docs/enic/System_f.pdf.

Old System

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

4. Mobility

5. Quality Assurance

6. Promotion of European Dimensions in Higher Education