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How much universities in Switzerland charge foreigners compared to locals

Foreign students pay a significantly higher tuition in Swiss universities than locals, a new study reveals.

How much universities in Switzerland charge foreigners compared to locals
The law library at the University of Zurich. Photo by Mitya Ivanov on Unsplash

Overall, the cost of studying in Switzerland is much lower than at top universities in the UK or the United States, where tuition can cost tens of thousands each year.

Still, costs at Swiss schools vary, according to an anlysis by consumer comparison site

For instance, students at the University of Italian Switzerland in Ticino pay 2,000 francs per semester, which is more than four times higher than what universities of Neuchâtel (425 francs) or Geneva (435 francs) charge.

Interestingly, costs “do not correlate with the academic reputation of the institution,” said Leo Hug, a Comparis expert. “The most expensive universities are not necessarily at the top of the rankings.”

Ticino’s university, which has high tuition fees, only occupies 273th place in the international QS World University Rankings.

The ETH Zurich, on the other hand, which, comes in eighth place worldwide, and even climbs to first place in continental Europe in The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2022, only charges 730 francs per semester.

READ MORE: Why ETH Zurich has been ranked the ‘best university in continental Europe’

This is 10 francs more than the University of Zurich (73rd in the QS ranking).

The Federal Polytechnic Institute (EPFL), which is also highly ranked internationally, collects the same semester fees, 730 francs, as its sister institution, Zurich’s ETH.

What about foreign students?

In some establishments, students coming from abroad pay higher tuition. Swiss universities are public, which means they are partly supported by tax revenue, so people who don’t reside in Switzerland have to shell out more money to study here.

At the University of St. Gallen,  for example, foreign Bachelor students have to pay a semester fee which is 2.5 times higher than that of Swiss residents — 3,129 francs compared to 1,229 francs.

In the Masters program, the ratio is also 2.3 (3,329 francs against 1,429 francs).

At the University of Italian Switzerland, the most expensive in the country, foreign students pay double, or 4,000 francs.

The finding is similar in the Swiss universities that train teachers (HEP).

The price for foreigners is highest in Valais (6,500 francs), versus 500 francs for their Swiss counterparts.

At the HEP in Fribourg, the second most expensive for foreigners, the tuition per semester is 4,200 francs, which is seven times more than Swiss students pay.

Regardless of the fact that foreigners are not entitled to the same pricing scheme as Swiss residents, “one could wonder if foreigners are not taken for cash cows”, Hug said, adding that in some cantons, like in Valais, “the costs are exaggerated”.

Comparis analysed only the tuition fees, and not other related costs such as student housing

Complete study results can be found here.

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Lausanne’s EPFL named ‘most international university’ in the world

Switzerland's EPFL federal technology institute has been named the most international university in the world in the prestigious Times Higher Education (THE) ranking.

Lausanne's EPFL named 'most international university' in the world
Photo: Alain Herzog

Switzerland also took silver in the list with Zurich’s ETH technology institute coming second. This reverses the positions the two institutes claimed in the inaugural 2017 ranking.

In equal sixth position this year was the university of Geneva while institutions in Hong Kong, Singapore, the UK and Australian filled out the top 10. 

The rankings were “dominated by countries that, through geography, government policies or culture, are open to the movement of students, staff and ideas, THE said of the ranking which reflect universities’ share of overseas staff, students and cross-border research.

Announcing the results, THE also noted it was no surprise Switzerland had done so well. It pointed to the fact that the country shared borders with five other nations and was in the heart of Europe.

The Lausanne-based EPFL, which received a score of 97.7 out of a possible 100, was praised for its “particularly strong reputation in engineering” but also for its emerging life sciences reputation.

THE added that students at the institute – which has been named the best young university (less than 50 years old) three years in a row – had plenty of access to exchange programmes while the institute also offered a global internship scheme.

“For a small country like Switzerland, we can be proud to have two federal institutes on the podium,” Martin Vetterli,” told The Local after the THE ranking was announced.

“The data released by Times Higher Education today recognises our global network and faculty to attract an international pool of talents, for students on one hand and for researchers on the other hand, enabling us to achieve high levels of excellence with a global benefit for our country,” he added.

Breakdown by discipline

This year, THE also analysed universities’ international outlook across disciplines. Here, Switzerland also did well across the board with the global nature of its institutes visible in disciples ranging from the arts and humanities to business and engineering.

This is not the case everywhere. Analysis showed the UK was more international in terms of engineering, business and management and computer science while China, South Korea and Japan were more global in the arts, humanities and social sciences and less so when it comes to science.

This is the opposite of counterparts in the West, THE noted.

No US university in the top 20

As was the case with the 2017 ranking, there is a conspicuous absence of US institutions. In fact, the top ranked US universtiy this year is MIT in 30th place. 

By contrast, there are eight UK institutions in the top 20 most international universities.

Editor's note: This article originally incorrectly stated that there were no US universities in the top 50 of the rankings.