Thinktank questions Swiss university ‘duplication’

Federal structure has led to ‘expansion based purely on regional political interests’, says report

March 5, 2018
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Switzerland should end the “duplication” in its higher education system, a thinktank has argued, in which every canton “jockeys to get into the higher education act”.

Although the country boasts some of the world’s top-ranked universities, notably ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, the pro-free market thinktank Avenir Suisse has questioned whether university expansion has gone too far.

With a population of just over 8 million, Switzerland has 38 institutes of higher education, the thinktank says in a report.

It calls for an “end to expansion based purely on regional political interests”.

There is a risk of “duplication and dumbing down” in the country’s fast-growing technical institutes of higher education, it warns.

“Public spending on research and teaching has soared by 70 per cent since 2000 – far higher than overall expenditure or GDP,” according to the thinktank.

“The munificence reflects in part increasing global competition among elite universities and the critical mass required to attract and conduct top-level research,” it acknowledges. “But it also betrays wastefulness and duplication as every region or canton jockeys to get into the higher education act.” Some universities in close proximity offer near identical courses, it warns.

There should also be “significantly” higher tuition fees to “increase students’ awareness of the value of a degree”, although these should be funded from a voucher scheme or an educational savings account, argues the report, Excellence, not Regional Politics, at Swiss Universities.

There should also be greater selection of students for university courses, it recommends.

The report shows that Switzerland is not immune from concerns familiar in the rest of Europe about the extent, cost and economic wisdom of university expansion.

However, for its population, Switzerland does not have an unusually large number of higher education institutions when compared with other countries: Germany boasts about 400, and France some 3,500.

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

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