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Education System in Switzerland: An Overview

Updated on 16 November, 2023

Shivangi Mishra

Shivangi Mishra

Sr. Content Editor

Synopsis: The blog covers the education system in Switzerland, the grading system, the type of educational institutes and characteristics of the Switzerland educational system, and more.

Overview: Switzerland, a nation renowned for its innovation in tech and breathtaking landscapes, places an equally remarkable emphasis on another crucial facet of its identity: education. Did you know that Switzerland invests 5.7% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) into its education system? This financial investment fuels a tripartite education structure in Switzerland, ensuring young minds are prepared to excel in the myriad of opportunities.

Education System in Switzerland- Quick Facts

Switzerland's education system is known for its high quality and flexibility. Here are some quick facts about the education system in Switzerland:

Cantonal Autonomy: 

Switzerland has a decentralized education system, with each of its 26 cantons responsible for its education policies and curriculum. It can lead to some variations in the education system across different regions.

Compulsory Education: 

Education is compulsory for all children in Switzerland from the ages of 6 to 15. However, the starting age can vary slightly between cantons.

World-Class Universities: 

Switzerland's commitment to excellence is exemplified by its two federal institutes of technology, ETH Zurich and EFPL in Lausanne, which consistently rank among the world's leading universities. 

Multilingual Education: 

Switzerland has four national languages—German, French, Italian, and Romansh. Depending on the region, education is conducted in one of these languages. 

Financial Commitment: 

The Swiss public sector dedicates approximately CHF 38 billion annually to education, equivalent to 5.7% of the country's GDP. It is a substantial investment to nurture talent and foster innovation.

Overview of Education System in Switzerland

Here is a comprehensive analysis to navigate the education levels in Switzerland.

Level of Education

Education structure in Switzerland 

Standard Age

Primary education system in Switzerland

  • Kindergarten

4 to 11 years

Secondary Education

  • Lower Secondary
  • Upper Secondary

12 to 19 years

Tertiary Education

  • University of Applied Sciences
  • Universities and Federal Institutes of Technology
  • Universities of Teacher Education

19 to 24 years

Primary Education in Switzerland

  • Primary education in Switzerland begins with kindergarten at the age of four, lasting for two years.
  • In some cantons, students aged four to eight attend the same class, referred to as the first learning cycle. During this phase, students are introduced to the reading, writing, and arithmetic basics (the three Rs).
  • The elementary education system in Switzerland also gives significant emphasis on language learning, with at least two foreign languages, including English, being taught.
  • In addition to the core subjects, primary education in Switzerland includes subjects such as drawing, music, and basic civics.

Secondary Education in Switzerland

The secondary education system of Switzerland is divided into lower secondary and higher secondary levels.

Lower Secondary Education:

  • After completing primary education, students are assessed and promoted to the lower secondary level.
  • Lower secondary education typically spans a maximum of three years and focuses on academic progression and personal development.
  • Students learn academic subjects and life skills, including social interaction, responsibility, and conflict resolution.

Higher Secondary Education: 

Higher secondary education prepares students for further studies and future careers. Switzerland offers two main paths for higher secondary education:

Baccalaureate School:

  • Baccalaureate schools provide a comprehensive education over three to four years.
  • Some cantons offer six-year programs for students transitioning directly from primary school.
  • After completing baccalaureate school, students can apply for higher education institutes.

Upper Secondary Specialized Schools:

  • These schools offer specialized training in various fields, including healthcare, social work, education, pedagogy, art, and design.
  • The program typically lasts for a maximum of three years.
  • Students must pass six subjects to earn their upper-secondary specialized school certificate, enabling them to continue their education in PET (Professional Education and Training) colleges.

Vocational Schools (VET):

  • Vocational Education and Training (VET) is a vital part of the Swiss education system.
  • VET schools aim to equip students with the knowledge and skills needed for the job market.
  • This system combines workplace learning and vocational school education in the form of apprenticeships.
  • Over two-thirds of Swiss students opt for vocational schools after completing their compulsory education. 

 Tertiary Education in Switzerland

Tertiary education in Switzerland consists of three levels: Bachelor's, Master's, and PhD degree courses. Switzerland is well-regarded for its tertiary education, making it an attractive destination for international students. Tertiary education institutions include universities and higher vocational training schools.

Grading System of Switzerland

The majority of Swiss higher education institutions use a grading system with grades ranging from 1 to 6 (with 6 being the highest and 1 being the lowest). In a few conditions, a scale ranging from 1 to 10 is also used.

International scale

Swiss scale

German explanation

French explanation

Italian explanation






(very good, with few errors)


Very good


Very good

(good, with some errors)





(satisfactory, with many errors)





(sufficient. This is the minimum passing grade)





 1 – 10 (10 = max/6 = pass)

Education Levels in Switzerland of Higher Education System

Higher education system in Switzerland is structured into distinct study levels and various types of educational institutions cater to these levels. Here's an overview:

Bachelor's Degree (Undergraduate Level): 

It is the first level of tertiary education takes around three to four years. It provides students with a broad foundation in their chosen field.

Master's Degree (Graduate Level): 

After completing a Bachelor's degree, students can pursue a Master's degree, which offers more specialized knowledge and research opportunities. Master's programs generally take one to two years to complete.

Doctoral Studies (PhD Level): 

Doctoral programs are research-intensive and allow students to conduct independent research in their chosen field. They usually take three to five years.

Type of Higher Educational Institutes

Universities and Federal Institutes of Technology: 

The majority, constituting 61% of students, opt for universities and federal institutes of technology renowned for rigorous academic programs and groundbreaking research. Graduates are well-prepared for careers in research, academia, and professions demanding a theoretical foundation.

The top Universities and Federal Institutes of Technology are:

ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology): 

ETH Zurich is renowned globally for its excellence in STEM fields, cutting-edge research, and innovation. It consistently ranks among the top universities worldwide.

University of Zurich: 

Switzerland's largest university, the University of Zurich, offers a broad spectrum of academic programs, fosters a strong research culture, and collaborates with leading institutions worldwide.

 Universities of Applied Sciences: 

Roughly 30% of students select universities of applied sciences, known for their practical, hands-on approach. These institutions equip students with directly applicable skills, ideal for professions in fields such as engineering, business, and healthcare.

The top Universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen) are:

ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences: 

ZHAW is Switzerland's largest university of applied sciences, known for its practical approach to education and programs in engineering, business, and health sciences.

HES-SO University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland: 

HES-SO is a network of universities of applied sciences with expertise in fields, such as engineering, health, and social work. Its multiple campuses offer a diverse range of programs.

Universities of Teacher Education:

Comprising 8% of tertiary enrollment, these universities specialize in preparing future educators, focusing on pedagogy and educational leadership.

The top Universities of Teacher Education are:

Zurich University of Teacher Education (PH Zurich): 

Zurich University of Teacher Education, also known as PH Zurich, is a prominent institution in teacher education. It is recognized for its commitment to pedagogical expertise and practical teaching skills, preparing future educators for successful careers in teaching.

University of Fribourg, Institute of Teacher Education (PH Fribourg): 

The University of Fribourg's Institute of Teacher Education specializes in teacher training with a focus on bilingualism and intercultural education. It contributes to Switzerland's diverse educational system.

Characteristics of Switzerland Educational System

The education system in Switzerland is characterized by several key features that contribute to its reputation for quality, diversity, and flexibility:

Diversity of Pathways: 

The Swiss system offers diverse educational pathways for students to choose between academic, vocational, and specialized tracks. This flexibility helps students to pursue their interests and strengths.

Strong Vocational Training: 

The dual system of vocational education and training (VET) is highly effective, providing students with practical skills and preparing them for the workforce. It ensures a smooth transition from education to employment.

International Orientation: 

Switzerland's higher education system is internationally oriented, attracting students and researchers across the Globe. This global perspective fosters cultural exchange and collaboration.

Cantonal Autonomy: 

Switzerland's education system is highly decentralized, with each of its 26 cantons having significant control over education policies and curriculum. This autonomy allows for adaptation to local needs and preferences.


Switzerland's linguistic diversity is reflected in its education system. Depending on the area, students can learn in German, French, Italian, and Romansh. This emphasis on multilingualism prepares students for a globalized world.


The education system of Switzerland adapts to diverse learning styles, blending challenge with fulfillment. Its global reputation for quality, innovation, and research firmly establishes it as a preeminent educational hub, unlocking new opportunities and nurturing talents for a promising future.

Read More:


Is the education system tough in Switzerland?

Switzerland's education system is renowned for its high standards, but it offers diverse pathways, making it adaptable to different learning styles. The level of difficulty can vary depending on the chosen program and institution.

How is the education system in Switzerland ranked globally?

Switzerland consistently ranks among the top countries for higher education due to its renowned universities, research contributions, and emphasis on quality.

What are the benefits of studying in Switzerland?

Switzerland has world-class education system, diverse programs, multilingualism, strong vocational training, and a global outlook. Students get research opportunities, a high quality of life, and international networking prospects.

Shivangi Mishra

Sr. Content Editor

She is an experienced writer and journalist who has extensively covered the education sector in India and Abroad. Now helping Indian aspirants realise their foreign education dream by providing them with relevant content and information through upGrad Abroad. Amateur traveller, loves to read Architectural Digest!

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