Switzerland’s one-way Erasmus substitute falling short

Only four universities hitting Europe’s 20 per cent target, but immobile institutions say agency figures belie specific barriers and possibilities of domestic exchanges

一月 29, 2023
Source: iStock

Switzerland’s central European location and advanced economy should make it a frontrunner for student mobility, but recent figures show only a handful of institutions meet pan-European targets. 

The University of St Gallen, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, St Gallen University of Teacher Education and the University of Italian Switzerland all hit the pan-European target – with at least 20 per cent of their graduates having studied abroad. 

Outside a European Union framework, Swiss institutions have gone their own ways in offering mobility to their students. St Gallen, which sends almost 53 per cent of its graduates abroad, tops outgoing rankings because it prioritises inward mobility, according to Peggy van der Wallen, its lead for student mobility. “We think it’s very important to make it very attractive for incoming students to come to St Gallen because if we do this, of course we can also negotiate more spots for our outgoing students.” 

St Gallen students are expected to evangelise for the university while on exchange, organising events or posting on social media to help build its brand abroad. On their return, they must write experience reports, a valuable resource for future candidates, but something very few students visiting St Gallen are required to do by their home institution, Ms van der Wallen noted. 

Some Swiss institutions would struggle to replicate St Gallen’s success, which Ms van der Wallen also attributes to an emphasis on business and legal studies and English-language instruction. The bottom of the Swiss mobility rankings is dominated by vocational institutions, particularly teacher-training colleges.  

Adrian Wüthrich is president of the Swiss Federal University for Vocational Education and Training, a tiny institution with only 60, mainly part-time students. “They are integrated in a social environment and often with family and children; it is often more difficult to organise a stay abroad,” he said, explaining its 1.5 per cent mobility rate. 

For others, Switzerland’s linguistic diversity means foreign travel is not always necessary. Fabio Di Giacomo, director of the bilingual French-German Teacher Training College of Valais, pointed out that every student must already spend a semester in another district to learn whichever language is not their mother tongue.  

From 2023, Movetia, the Swiss mobility agency, will partially fund internships abroad, and Mr Di Giacomo said his college planned to expand the opportunities it already offers budding teachers to work at Swiss schools in Bogota, Singapore and Dubai. 

In its report, Movetia noted that some Swiss institutions tended to focus on developing overseas contacts, while others prioritised the availability of outbound mobility funding for their own students, finding that few managed to do both successfully.

To be fair, only the Netherlands and the diminutive states of Andorra, Cyprus and Luxembourg had hit the national benchmark by 2020, the original deadline set by the intergovernmental Bologna Process, a Eurasian standard-setting club for higher education. 

Luciana Vaccaro, president of the Swiss rectors’ conference Swissuniversities, told Times Higher Education that the figures were “not surprising” given the country’s exclusion from the Erasmus exchange programmes since 2014, adding that Switzerland’s one-way domestic substitute was “not enough”.

“It provides an answer to the question of mobility but Erasmus+ is much broader than that. We regret that the association with Erasmus+ is not higher on the Swiss political agenda; it is still secondary to the issue of research and association with Horizon Europe,” she said. 




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