Coordination in the higher education sector

According to the Federal Constitution (Art. 63a BV), the Confederation and the cantons are jointly responsible for ensuring the quality of higher education. Three enactments ensure implementation of this constitutional mandate:

  • The Federal Act on Funding and Coordination of the Swiss Higher Education Sector (Higher Education Funding and Coordination Act, HFKG),

  • The Intercantonal Agreement on the Swiss Higher Education Sector (Higher Education Agreement)

  • Cooperation Agreement between the Confederation and Cantons (ZSAV).

The entire higher education sector (universities, universities of applied sciences and universities of teacher education) is regulated under federal law. The HFKG governs the coordination and promotion of higher education and regulates the goals and principles of the organisation and process of coordination. The Intercantonal Agreement regulates cooperation among the participating cantons and collaboration with the Confederation on coordination in the Swiss higher education sector. The Cooperation Agreement creates the following joint institutions: the Swiss University Conference, the Rectors' Conference and the Accreditation Council.

Every federal and cantonal higher education institution has its own legal status through the respective governing body.

Basic principles of coordination in the higher education sector

  • Higher education sector as a whole

    Universities, universities of applied sciences and universities of teacher education are bound by common criteria. At the same time the independence of the different kinds of higher education institutions is ensured.

  • Simplifications

    The institutional structure has been simplified. There is now just one University Conference, one Rectors' Conference and one Accreditation Council.

  • Involvement of all cantons

    All cantons sponsor higher education institutions or are participants in funding bodies and contribute via intercantonal financing agreements, i.e. IUV (Intercantonal University Agreement) and FHV (Intercantonal Agreement on Universities of Applied Sciences).

  • Transparency of financing

    The federal law creates the basis for increased transparency in higher education financing.

  • Basic contributions of the Confederation

    The rates of contribution paid by the Confederation to higher education institutions are laid down in Swiss federal law. Financing of universities of teacher education continues to be a cantonal responsibility.

  • Independent status of the funding bodies

    The funding cantons and the higher education institutions retain their independent status «Particularly cost-intensive areas of activity» such as medicine and cutting-edge research in the natural sciences are an exception.

Institutional Structure

Swiss University Conference (SUC)
The SUC has two forms of assembly (Plenary Assembly and Higher Education Council) and is the supreme body of the Confederation and cantons on higher education policy. It is responsible for nationwide coordination of federal and cantonal policy on higher education. The Plenary Assembly deals with matters relating to the rights and responsibilities of the Confederation and all cantons belonging to the Higher Education Agreement. Its powers include determining reference costs and contribution categories as well as making recommendations on grants and loans. The Higher Education Council deals with matters relating to the tasks of the higher education governing bodies. Its powers include, amongst others: enactment of legislation, for example regulation of study levels and transitions between them, uniform designation of titles, permeability and mobility, and recognition of qualifications. The Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) remains responsible for nationwide recognition of qualifications from universities of teacher education; the basis is the Agreement on Recognition of Diplomas from 1993.

Rectors' Conference
The Rectors' Conference of the Swiss Universities (swissuniversities) represents the interests of higher education institutions. All higher education institutions are represented by their rectors and presidents. The Rectors' Conference presents its views on the activities of the Swiss University Conference (SUC) and submits proposals to it on behalf of higher education institutions. It also represents the interests of Swiss higher education institutions on a Swiss-wide and international level. It can take on federal mandates as well as programme or project management. The Rectors' Conference has three chambers, one each for the universities, the universities of applied sciences and the universities of teacher education. These chambers fulfil tasks specific to each type of higher education institutions.

  • The universities chamber is specifically responsible for exchange of information, harmonisation of academic processes and definitions as well as an appropriate division of tasks among the universities and, in the framework of the swissuniversities bodies, with the universities of applied sciences.

  • The universities of applied sciences chamber represents the interests and objectives of the universities of applied sciences in the framework of swissuniversities and vis-à-vis the political authorities and social, economic and cultural circles. It engages in the coordination and development of teaching, research, continuing education and services.

  • The universities of teacher education chamber coordinates and underpins the further development of teacher training in the areas of teaching, research, continuing education and services. It represents the interests and objectives of the universities of teacher education and other institutions engaged in the training of teachers in the framework of swissuniversities and vis-à-vis the political authorities and the public.

Swiss Accreditation Council
The Swiss Accreditation Council, acting as an expert panel, ensures that all Swiss higher education institutions receive accreditation following a uniform process. Allocated to the council is the Swiss agency for accreditation and quality assurance . Institutional accreditation gives higher education institutions the right to include the following designations in their names: «university», «university of applied sciences» or «university of teacher education», or a derived term, in particular, «university institute» or «university of applied sciences institute». Private operators have to submit to the same accreditation procedure if they wish to use a designation that is protected throughout Switzerland. In the case of universities and universities of applied sciences established under public law, institutional accreditation is also a prerequisite for the entitlement to receive funding from the Confederation. Accreditation of degree programmes is voluntary.

The Intercantonal Agreements on Financing and Mobility are the basis for equal-opportunity access to higher education institutions nationwide and regulate the equalisation of burdens among the cantons.

Every federal and cantonal higher education institution has its own legal status through the respective governing body.

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Last update of this page: 26.07.2021