The Higher Education Bill, adopted by the Swiss Federal Parliament in September 2011 and set to take effect in 2015, was conceived with the aim to establish a more homogenous system of accreditation for both private and public universities in Switzerland. Older laws did not account for a consistent federal governing body to watch over both sectors of the tertiary system as the supervision of higher education was the prerogative of cantons (states). Streamlining and homogenization has been under way in Europe for the past 15 years. In Europe, changes were made to facilitate credit transfers and to common benchmark for quality. A well-known agreement to this effect was the Bologna Process, which was ratified in 1999. It currently has 47 signatory countries and has been a giant leap forward in terms of the harmonization of higher education institutions in Europe.
Pre Higher Education Bill
The political wish for a more homogenoussystem arose after persistentdiscussionsabout the validity of diplomasdelivered by private institutions in Switzerland. In April of 2013, the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) released a statement declaring: “As a general rule, in Switzerland no prior authorization wasrequired in order to offer higher education courses, organize examinations or issue private diplomas”.
Under previousregulations, private schools were allowed to operate in Switzerland without any quality control and no assimilationof the public system’s benchmarks. The lack of standardization created unequal and fluctuating levels of quality throughoutthe Swiss private universities and businessschools.
This lack of an official position on the matter of diplomas issued by private institutions meant that the appreciation of such degrees was left to employers and educators and that there was a void in terms of national guidelines on the subject.
Even if most private institutions have preserved a reputable status in Switzerland despite the lack of a standardized set of guidelines and regulations, such as Webster University, European University, UBIS, BSL, etc.;questions remained concerning the legitimacy of some Swiss private universities and business schools.
The Higher Education Bill sets out to put in place a shared framework for quality assurance and standards in accordance with the Swiss University Conference (CUS), the organization made up of the cantons (states) and the Confederation for university policies.
Information on tertiaryeducation in Switzerland
The Swiss have a long-lasting traditionand are recognized worldwide for providing exceptional education. The first university of Switzerland, Basel University, opened its doors in 1460 and was mainly dedicated to medicine and research. Today, Switzerland has ten cantonal universities, two federaluniversities andover 300 private universities. Higher education system alone accounts for more than 230,000 students, a sizeable portion of which are foreigners.
Public Sector Accreditations Today
There are multiplecantonal and federalorganizationssupervising higher education in Switzerland such as:
- Swiss University Conference (CUS)
- State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI)
- Swiss Center of Accreditation and Quality Assurance in Higher Education (OAQ)
The body in charge of overseeing accreditation for higher education is OAQ. OAQ was developed as an independent organization under federal mandate.The center carries out numerous tasks relating to quality assurance and accreditation on behalf of the CUS and SERI and has received international acknowledgement credibility in the matter of QA (quality assurance), conforming to European QA Standards and Guidelines in the Higher Education Area (ESG).
Private Sector Accreditations Today
While private universities in Switzerland were never eligible OAQ accreditation, the establishment of the Swiss Federation of Private Schools (FSEP) in 1966 provideda credible solution for schools in search ofofficial accreditation.Today the FSEP boasts a network of over 240 institutions representing about 100,000 students.
In addition to the Swiss Federation of Private Schools, there are also other (Swiss and European)accreditation bodies including ACBSP, IACBE, CEEMAN, and eduQua providing accreditation for private institutions. While each organization has its own set of requirements to obtain accreditation, they have all helped provide a valid process for private institutions by which they can obtain quality assurance and recognition despite their impossibility of being OAQ accredited.
Before thisHigher Education Bill, private universities had no obligation to obtain any kind of accreditation and could operate in all legalitywithout quality assurance or certification. When the new legislation will be enforced in 2015, such institutions will still be able to operate, but bound by a new set of criteria. Furthermore,it will become possible for them to apply for and obtain OAQ accreditation, if all requirements and conditions are met.
When contacted about this new billcoming in 2015, Dirk Craen, European University’s president stated: “We anticipated some time ago that Switzerland would make amendments to its rather lenient policies for private universities in the country. Accordingly, we’ve continuously worked to achieve accreditation outside the OAQ and consistently improved our undergraduate and graduate curriculums. While we anticipate there will be some minor changes, at the end of the day we will still be delivering a quality business education.” Dirk Craen also added: “In the education industry you are used to adapting. Teaching methods change, technology changes and it is possible for even the laws governing the sector to change. European University has always sought ways to improve its curriculum and offerings to EU students and while we believe we’ve always delivered a quality business education, this new change does present an opportunity to re-evaluate the way we’ve been going about things. At this time we are evaluating the best approach to the new regulations and at the end of the day how we can best serve our students.”
Under the new law, three major changes will take effect for universities in Switzerland:
- Private and public institutions will be required to uphold the same accreditation standards.Therefore, private universities will be eligible to receive OAQ accreditation, provided necessary conditions are met.
- Universities without OAQ accreditation will still be allowed to operate; however, they will no longer be permitted to use the term ‘university’.They instead must refer to themselves as an academy, school or institution.
- Diplomas for federally regulated professions (i.e. the medical field or practice of the bar) offered by private institutions without the OAQ accreditation will not be recognized under federal law. Other professions that are non-regulated (i.e. management, journalism, etc.) will remain subject to the judgment of employers and educators, who will be free to recognize the diploma’s value or not.