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Masters in Switzerland

by Dr. Lutz-Peter Berg, Swiss Science & Technology Office

Why study for a Masters degree in Switzerland?

Switzerland is an internationally-renowned centre of excellence for teaching and research offering a broad range of high-quality programmes in several languages and in every field of research. Its natural beauty, high quality of life, fascinating history and a centuries-old tradition for cultural diversity make Switzerland a wonderful place to live in. At the same time, Swiss universities offer a variety of exchange programs that will allow you to study and travel all over Europe, and beyond.

Domestic policy places great value on higher education, and Swiss universities are, as a consequence, generously funded public institutions. Switzerland's investment in education and research is among the highest of all OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries. As a result, Switzerland boasts both the highest number of registered patents in all European countries, one of the highest numbers of Nobel Prizes per capita in the world and enjoys worldwide recognition for its research. Swiss scientists are not only the most productive in the world, with the highest number of scientific publications per researcher, their publications have also a strong impact. The fields of life sciences, agriculture, biology, environmental sciences, and clinical medicine measure the highest number of citations per publication worldwide, while Swiss performance in engineering, computer science, physics, chemistry, and earth sciences is also excellent.

Switzerland also has a strong tradition of attracting overseas students and offering research opportunities in a vibrant, dynamic and multi-cultural environment. The high proportion of foreign university students (21%), Ph.D. students (53.6%) and teaching staff (45%) attests to this. In the postgraduate environment, English is often the language of instruction (over 200 Swiss Masters courses are taught in English) and the working language in a research environment.

Masters degrees at Swiss universities

Higher education in Switzerland comprises academic studies at the 12 research-led universities (this number includes the two Federal Institutes of Technology as well as the 10 Cantonal Universities), at the more professionally-oriented Universities of Applied Sciences and at the Universities of Teacher Education. A few more university-level institutions are considered public institutions of higher education. As a Masters student in Switzerland you can study at any of these institutions, depending on your subject area.

Cantonal Universities and Federal Institutes of Technology

Switzerland's Cantonal Universities and Federal Institutes of Technology offer Masters programmes in a wide range of fields. Most carry out substantial ongoing research activity alongside their teaching and offer PhD programmes in addition to their Bachelors and Masters courses. If your interests are primarily academic (and particularly if you are considering doctoral study) a Masters from a Swiss Cantonal University or Federal Institute of Technology may be right for you.

Universities of Applied Science

Universities of Applied Science are more professionally orientated, though their programmes still incorporate the latest academic insight and specialist knowledge. They do not tend to carry out research and award comparatively fewer postgraduate degrees than the Swiss research universities. Nonetheless, if you are interested in a vocational subject area or in working in business or industry after your Masters, you may find an excellent opportunity at a Swiss University of Applied Science.

Swiss Masters degrees in a European context

Since 2006, all Swiss universities have offered their courses in accordance with the Bologna system, undergraduate studies culminate in a Bachelor's degree, which can be further advanced with a Master's degree in compliance with international agreements. Around 117,000 students attend Switzerland's world-class Bachelor's, Master's and Ph.D. programmes, which are based on cutting-edge research and cover a variety of areas. Switzerland is a full member of EU research and education programmes and researchers in Switzerland are very successful in attracting EU funding.

Structure and content of Masters degrees in Switzerland

The academic year in Switzerland runs from September to June, with individual semesters from September to December and from February to June. Exact dates vary slightly, but you can find more detailed information here. Most Swiss Masters programmes involve between three and four semesters of study (valued at between 90 and 120 ECTS credits). In practice this means that you will be enrolled for between one and a half and two years.

You will spend most of your time as a Masters student in Switzerland acquiring advanced knowledge in your field through the completion of taught modules and related assessment tasks. Emphasis will be placed on your ability to study independently, to comprehend relevant academic research and to present your ideas to tutors and peers.

Most Swiss Masters degrees conclude with an independently researched and written dissertation. This will require you to investigate a substantial topic in your field, under the supervision of an expert from within your university.

Applying for a Masters in Switzerland

The prerequisite for access to a Swiss Masters programme is a successfully completed Bachelors programme in a relevant discipline. Universities may set additional requirements, equally applicable to all candidates, for admission to specialized Master's programmes. Language requirements will depend on the teaching arrangements for your course, but many are offered in English.

Each university makes its own decisions as to whether a Bachelor's degree obtained in a foreign country gives its holder access to Master's programmes with or without entrance examinations, under certain conditions, with further requirements, or no access at all. As a general rule you can expect qualifications from within the European Higher Education Area to be accepted by most Swiss universities, provided they meet any requirements as to subject area and attainment. More information on the recognition and certification of foreign qualifications can be obtained from the Swiss branch of ENIC-NARIC (the European Commission's National Academic Recognition Information Centres).

Application deadlines for Masters programmes in Switzerland will vary, but, as a general rule, you should apply sometime during the Spring term (between February and June) the year before you wish to commence your studies. More specific information will be available from universities.

Language requirements

The language spoken in Switzerland varies by region, with French, German and Italian being used in different areas of the country. For non-English Masters programmes you will therefore need to check the language used at your university and ensure you have the necessary competency. You can access a list of language requirements for specific Swiss universities here. You can also read guides to academic tests for French, German and Italian language skills on FindAMasters.com.

However, a large number of Swiss Masters programmes are offered in English and, due to the country's multi-lingual nature, it is not uncommon for people to speak more than one language. A list of these is usually maintained by the Conference of the Rectors of the Swiss Universities.

Visas and immigration for Masters students in Switzerland

As in most countries within the European Higher Education Area, different immigration procedures apply to students depending on nationality. If you are a citizen of the EU or EEA, you will not usually require a formal visa. Students from elsewhere will need to apply for an entry visa and allow sufficient time for this to be issued before they can travel to Switzerland as a Masters student. Health insurance requirements will also vary depending on your nationality.

Swiss visas for EU and EEA students

EU and EEA students will still need to register as foreign residents once they arrive in Switzerland. This should be done at the Residents' Registration Office in your local area no later than 14 days after arrival. In addition to a completed application form, you will need to present various documents at this office, including:

  • Your passport or identity card.
  • Proof that you are registered as a Masters student in Switzerland.
  • Proof of your address in Switzerland.
  • Proof that you possess sufficient funds to support yourself whilst living in Switzerland as a student.
  • Two passport-sized photographs.

Swiss visas for non-EU/EEA students

If you are not a citizen of an EU or EEA country you will need to apply for a visa before you travel. You can do this at a Swiss Embassy or Consulate in your home country. They will be able to inform you of the specific documents required, which will usually include proof of registration at a Swiss higher education institution. A visa may take several months to issue and you should factor this time into your application process. It may be a good idea to apply for your Masters course as early as possible in order to confirm your registration with sufficient time left for a visa to be issued.

Health insurance

Switzerland has a compulsory health insurance system that guarantees access to a range of quality medical care services and appropriate medical treatment to all people living in Switzerland. Every person living in Switzerland for more than three months, including international students, must have basic health insurance coverage. Students from countries that provide international health coverage may be exempt from the compulsory health insurance. Other students may be exempt if they have equivalent health insurance coverage in their home country.

Fees and funding for Masters degrees in Switzerland

The Swiss government is committed to higher education and accessibility, providing generous funding at the federal and regional (cantonal) level. As a result tuition fees for Masters programmes in Switzerland are generally quite low. Funding for Masters study in Switzerland is also available from a range of sources.

Fees

The exact cost of studying a Masters degree in Switzerland will vary between institutions, programmes and subject-areas. As a rule you can expect to pay a minimum of 1,000CHF ($1,100) per year, with some institutions charging up to 8,000CHF ($8,800). In some cases this is the same rate paid by domestic students, but a number of institutions charge slightly higher fees to international enrolments.

Funding

A range of scholarships and other support packages are available to international students studying a Masters degree in Switzerland.

The Swiss government runs a scholarship scheme for foreign students, usually based on reciprocal agreements with other countries. You can find out whether you are eligible for this support by contacting a Swiss Embassy or Consulate. More information is available from the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI), here.

Individual universities may also offer funding to international postgraduate students. Information about this will often be displayed on university websites or made available upon request. In many cases this funding is managed or administered through university's international offices or mobility centres. You can view a list of these offices, with contact details, here.

Information on some other funding opportunities is available from Euraxess, the portal for research mobility within Europe.

PostgraduateFunding.com

Our own postgraduate funding website provides a comprehensive database of small grants and bursaries available to support postgraduate study around the world, including travel bursaries, living cost support, fee waivers and exchange programmes. Click here to start searching for funding to study a Masters in Switzerland, or elsewhere.

Careers and employment prospects with a Swiss Masters degree

Acquiring a Swiss Masters degree will associate you with a high-quality, globally renowned academic system. Swiss universities are consistently ranked among the best in the world, and Swiss research outputs are highly respected amongst international scholarly communities.

Studying in a multi-lingual, multicultural country will also enhance your CV more generally - you'll be able to demonstrate to future employers that you have the flexibility and spirit of adventure necessary to successfully take on new challenges. You may also come away with some additional European language skills, which will substantially enhance your employability in international business contexts.

For further information about Masters study in Switzerland, you can visit: www.swissuniversity.ch. To see what PhD opportunities might be available to you in Switzerland, or elsewhere, you can visit FindAPhD.com.

This article is the property of FindAMasters.com and may not be reproduced without permission.

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