Switzerland’s universities have an excellent reputation abroad. But their prestige comes at a cost: in recent years, misaligned financial incentives have prompted duplication, and regional aspirations have taken priority over excellence in educational policy – threatening standards. A 10 point Avenir Suisse plan shows how Swiss universities‘ international competitiveness could be improved.

Public spending on research and teaching at Swiss institutes of higher education has jumped by 70% since 2000 – far higher than overall expenditure or GDP. While global competition among elite universities has grown and the critical mass needed for top level research intensified, additional burdens on public budgets caused by demographic challenges will make it impossible to maintain this rate of growth. Innovation and the need to guard prosperity make it essential for Swiss universities to retain and improve their positions. But doing so will require consolidation and an end to expansion based purely on regional political interests

In their 96 page report Excellence, not regional politics, at Swiss universities – A 10 point plan for competitive higher education, Avenir Suisse authors Matthias Ammann, Patrik Schellenbauer and Peter Grünenfelder recommend essential reforms to strengthen Switzerland’s universities for the long term.

  • Universities should have more operational and strategic flexibility, with less political meddling.
  • Clearer accreditation rules based on harmonised criteria.
  • Federal government funding should be lowered to limit wasteful cantonal duplication, with savings being redirected to national research promotion agencies.
  • The Swiss National Fund should be opened to private sector research institutes.
  • Universities should have greater ability to access outside funding, with transparency ensured by codes of conduct.
  • Bigger incentives for students. Significantly higher tuition fees would raise awareness of the value of a degree; financing to come via a voucher system or educational savings accounts.
  • Student selection and students’ suitability for specific courses and further degrees should be tightened.
  • Greater transparency in university teaching, including regular graduate surveys and better benchmarking.
  • Greater efforts to retain top foreign professors, while the attraction of Swiss universities to foreign students should be improved.
  • The labour market should be liberalised for talented foreign graduates in sectors suffering skills shortages.