Barriers broken by linguistic diversity

January 29, 1999

Language is at the heart of the diversity of Swiss higher education. The country is split between the French and German-speaking cantons and the language of instruction in the cantonal universities largely follows this division.

At the country's second-largest university, Geneva, students from within the French-speaking canton comprise 51.8 per cent of the total, according to 1997 figures.

While overseas students account for a fifth, students from other parts of Switzerland make up the remaining .8 per cent. Of these a proportion are from the German-speaking cantons, brought to Geneva under an internal Swiss mobility scheme to encourage a reduction in linguistic barriers.

This month, specifically to attract more students from the UK and the United States, the University of Geneva has once again discussed the possibility of introducing English-language tuition in some courses.

The university already has an international reputation for its school of translation and interpretation.

A significant proportion of Swiss faculty is from overseas - 34.5 per cent in 1996, mainly German, French, Italian, American and British.

At universities such as Geneva, English is widely used in many postgraduate courses such as medicine, science and business studies, and is a key means of communication in laboratories.

The university has given special consideration to introducing special English communications courses for its academics but has yet to make a decision on special programmes for English-speaking students.

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