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Masters degrees in Switzerland
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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.

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Living in Switzerland - A Guide for Students

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

What's it like to study abroad in Switzerland?

Switzerland is a small country, but it is also a land of great diversity. Not only have the three main linguistic areas developed their own culture, traditions, economy and cuisine, but the great number of foreigners settled in Switzerland have also brought with them their various cultures and languages. With four national languages (German, French, Italian and Romansh) and over 21% of the population consisting of foreign citizens, Switzerland is a unique melting-pot in the heart of Europe. Although the majority of people (60%) speak German - or, more precisely, Swiss-German - Swiss residents often speak at least two languages. Cross-cultural encounters are part of daily life in Switzerland; multilingualism is often helpful!

All of this makes studying a Masters degree in Switzerland an exciting and fulfilling experience. In fact, nearly a third of students studying in Switzerland are from abroad (this figure rises to over 50% for research students!).

You'll also have plenty to do as an international Masters student in Switzerland. The country has long been one of the world's great tourist destinations and boasts an extraordinary abundance of natural beauties and interesting attractions. The 4000 metre-high peaks of the Alps began attracting the first modern tourists during the 19th Century. Since then, Switzerland has developed into a treasured destination for travellers of every nationality, age and condition, who find modern tourist facilities, sightseeing for every taste, and a hospitable welcome.

Key facts for Masters students in Switzerland

  • The academic year in Switzerland usually runs from September to June.
  • Around 44,500 foreign students study at Swiss universities.
  • Switzerland spends approximately 5.2% of GDP on education as a whole and 1.3% on tertiary education.
  • Switzerland is linguistically diverse. German is widely spoken in central and eastern regions, French is spoken in the west and Italian is spoken in parts of the South. Some regions also speak Romansh, a language descended from latin.
  • The currency of Switzerland is the Swiss franc (CHF).
  • Switzerland has a population of around eight million, around a third of which live in the country's five biggest cities (Zurich, Basel, Geneva, Bern and Lausanne).
  • Switzerland operates a federal constitution, with some power organised at the level of regions (cantons). Somewhat unusually, elements of Swiss governance are decided through direct democracy (in which citizens may vote on policy themselves, rather than simply electing representatives to do so).
  • There is no state religion in Switzerland. Christianity is the most popular religion among those Swiss who profess a faith.

Culture, leisure and everyday life for Masters students in Switzerland

Switzerland's landscape, geography and leisure activities are as diverse as its cultural identity. The country is known as a summer and winter sports paradise (Zermatt, St Moritz, Interlaken, Gstaad, the Jungfrau, Verbier are but a few of the many suggestive names). It hosts cosmopolitan cities like Geneva, Zurich, Basel, as well as several enchanting smaller towns (Lucerne, Neuchâtel, Lugano, etc.).

Lifestyle can vary greatly depending on the area of the country and the background of the inhabitants. Nowadays, the Swiss population is mainly modern and urban, with one-third of the population living in the five biggest cities (Zurich, Basel, Geneva, Bern and Lausanne), another third in smaller urban areas and the final one-third in rural areas. Traditions are kept alive especially in these mountain and rural areas. However, even the biggest Swiss city, Zurich, has only 370,000 inhabitants.

Swiss food and drink

Switzerland's diverse combination of European cultures has led to a rich fusion of French, German and Italian cuisine. Generally speaking, if there's a food you enjoy from one of Switzerland's neighbours you'll be able to find a Swiss version. There are also some characteristically Swiss dishes that are worth trying during your time as a Masters student. These include international favourites such as fondue (made with cheese, or chocolate) as well as a range of appealing deserts involving cookies, brownies and cooked apples.

Swiss drinks include a range of wines and beers as well as the infamous Absinthe, originally distilled in the Jura region of Switzerland.

Accommodation and living costs for Masters students in Switzerland

Switzerland is a fairly affordable place to live as an international Masters student. Taken as a whole, the costs for food, utilities and transportation are broadly comparable with neighbouring regions in Europe. You will also be able to choose from a range of housing options, with a combination of university residences and private rental options available to postgraduate students, depending on the arrangements at specific universities.

Living costs

In most areas of Switzerland, the cost of living is cheaper than Paris or London, although some items, such as food, are on average more expensive than elsewhere in Europe. As an estimate, depending on the exact location of your stay, and on the entity of personal demands, living in Switzerland has a monthly expenditure of between CHF 1,500-2,500 ($1,600-2,670). This includes housing, health insurance, food, daily transportation, small daily expenses, and educational material; your own costs will vary depending on requirements, and may be lower than this estimate.

Housing

In some cases and depending on the terms of their agreements with the university, international students and researchers will be offered accommodation opportunities by their institution. Usually though, each person must find their own accommodation. The most common solution for international students or researchers is to rent an apartment or a house, or a room in students' residences.

You can view listings for accommodation services and organisations in major Swiss university cities at the website of the Rectors Conference of the Swiss Universities.

In addition, individual universities often maintain resources on their websites for international students, including practical guides to finding accommodation and living in their immediate vicinity. If you can't find this information, consider getting in touch with your institution's international office and asking if they can help you.

Working whilst studying a Masters in Switzerland

You will usually be allowed to undertake some work alongside your studies whilst registered on a Swiss Masters programme. The extent of this work and the procedure for confirming your entitlement will depend upon your visa and residency conditions and, therefore, upon your nationality.

It is worth bearing in mind that you will not necessarily be permitted to support yourself entirely through work whilst resident in Switzerland as a student. This is partly to ensure that you progress through your studies at a satisfactory rate, and partly to prevent against abuse of student visa and immigration systems for other purposes. Your right to work will be dependent on your visa and residence permit, both of which will usually require you to demonstrate existing funds sufficient to support you as a Masters student in Switzerland.

For more information, you can contact a Swiss Embassy or your university. Universities may also maintain offices to help students find appropriate employment in their local area.

Remember that you can also use PostgraduateFunding.com to search a comprehensive database of small grants available to all postgraduate students. These could be a great way of topping up your funding if you have difficulty finding work alongside your studies.

Other useful information for Masters students in Switzerland

By now you should have a good idea of what to expect from life as a Masters student in Switzerland. You'll know how to get started finding accommodation, looking for a job and working on your French, or German, or Italian. . . There are a few other things you'll want to read up on before you head off to study a Masters in Switzerland though. Click 'read more' for a concise introduction to transport in Switzerland and Swiss bank accounts (no, not that kind of Swiss bank account!).

Travel and transportation

Switzerland's various borders make travel to and from other European countries particularly convenient. Various road and rail networks are available to facilitate travel in and around Switzerland; the country's largest airport is Zurich Airport, which provides international air travel links with various destinations. Switzerland also offers several more unique modes of transport. If your journey crosses one of the country's famous lakes you can usually travel using a boat service and, if you want to make a trip under your own power you can find detailed information on hiking, cycling and even canoeing routes around the country at the website of SwitzerlandMobility.

Money and banking

The Swiss banking system is renowned for protecting the privacy of transactions, leading to the possession of a 'Swiss bank account' being associated with secretive and potentially ill-gotten deposits. You'll be pleased to hear that these days the Swiss banking system operates according to international law and opening an account as a student is unlikely to be regarded as suspicious! Most banks will be happy to provide you with an account along with access to modern services including international money transfers and ATM withdrawal facilities. Some Swiss banks also provide services designed specifically for students. In order to open an account you will usually need to present proof of identification and accommodation.

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