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HIGHER EDUCATION

EXPLAINED: How can foreigners get into a Swiss university?

Switzerland’s higher education system attracts thousands of new students from abroad each year. Here’s what you should know about the admission process and Swiss universities in general.

EXPLAINED: How can foreigners get into a Swiss university?
Swiss universities attract thousands of foreign students each year. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.

Switzerland has 10 public universities — in Basel, Bern, Fribourg, Geneva, Neuchâtel, Lausanne, Lucerne, Lugano,  St. Gallen, and Zurich — as well as two institutes of technology located in Lausanne and Zurich.

Besides their field of orientation, the difference between “regular” universities and the polytechnics is that the former are cantonal institutions while the latter two are federal — both in terms of administration and funding.

In addition, there is a number of specialised universities  of applied sciences, as well as teacher training colleges.

A significant number of Swiss universities are highly ranked, with some, like Zurich’s polytechnic institute (ETH), positioned among the top schools worldwide and in the first place in continental Europe.

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

A recent study by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) shows that “thanks to the reputation of its education system, Switzerland welcomes an ever-increasing number of international students to its universities every year”.

At the start of the 2020 academic year (the last data available), nearly 12,300 new international students enrolled in Swiss universities — 4 percent more than in the previous year — despite the Covid pandemic and travel restrictions.   

Nearly half (49 percent) of foreigners are doctoral students, 19 percent are at master’s level, and the rest are studying for a bachelor’s degree, FSO data shows.

How can foreign students enrol at a Swiss university?

You can start by visiting the website of a university you are interested in attending to find out what their specific entry conditions are, including language proficiency requirements.

While most schools offer courses in English, some may only have French, German, or Italian-taught degrees — this is, after all, Switzerland.

You can apply to a university of your choice directly online, following instructions. As an example of what is involved in the application process, here is an enrolment form for University of Geneva, which may give you an idea of what’s required elsewhere in Switzerland.

Once you are accepted, the next step is to see whether you need a student visa to study in Switzerland.

If you come from a EU or EFTA country, you don’t need a visa to enter Switzerland, but you will have to register with your local authorities within 14 days of your arrival and apply for a residence permit.

You will have to prove that you are enrolled at a university in the canton by providing a letter of acceptance along with proof of payment of the registration and tuition fees.

If you are a citizen of a third nation, you have to apply at a Swiss embassy or consulate in your home country for a D-visa to enter and study in Switzerland. 

Here too you will have to show proof of university enrolment, and must apply for a residence permit after arriving in Switzerland.

How much does it cost to study at a Swiss university?

Overall, the cost of studying in Switzerland is much lower than at top universities in the UK or the United States, but foreign students pay a significantly higher tuition than locals.

The reason is that 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.

As a general indication, in 2021,  foreign Bachelor students at the University of St. Gallen had 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 was 2.3 (3,329 francs against 1,429 francs).

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

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

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.

By contrast, tuition at Switzerland’s top university, ETH in Zurich, is only 799 per semester.

READ MORE: How much universities in Switzerland charge foreigners compared to locals

What other costs will foreign students have to pay?

Generally speaking, and given that Switzerland is an expensive country, expect costs to be high.

Apart from the tuition and additional fees for study-associated materials, you will have to pay rent for housing where you will live, as well as for meals, public transport, the obligatory health insurance policy, and whatever other miscellaneous costs you may incur.

In some situations, international students can get some financial assistance from  the Federal Commission for Scholarships for Foreign Students (FCS).

The list of those eligible to apply is, however, limited to some postgraduate candidates and researchers from certain countries.

To check whether your nation is eligible for the programme, you can contact the Swiss Embassy or consulate in your home country.

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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Zurich legally

Got an unwanted mattress, fridge or sofa? Here’s how you can legally get it off your hands in Zurich.

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Zurich legally

If you’ve bought a new piece of furniture in Zurich or a mattress, you may be faced with the problem of what to do with the old one. 

This is particularly the case in cities like Zurich, where space is at a premium and you may not be able to kit out your spare room with the old furniture. 

While there are waste disposal centres, even getting there without a car can be a problem. 

One man’s trash…

First things first, think about whether you really need to get rid of the thing in question. 

While you may not want it, there may be someone out there willing to take it off your hands – particularly if you aren’t going to charge them. 

The first point of call is to ask your friends and colleagues if they’re interested, with social media the perfect place to ask around. 

If you live in an apartment complex, you might try placing the item in a common area with a note saying “zu verschenken” (to give away) or ‘gratis’ (free). 

After that, there are several online options like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Free Your Stuff Zurich, Ricardo, Anibis, Craig’s List and Tutti. 

Some of these sites will charge a fee – even if you’re giving something away – so be sure to read the fine print first. 

Another option is to donate the goods to a charity organisation. They will usually charge you money to pick it up and prices can vary dramatically. 

Caritas charge CHF35 per 100kg plus transport costs, while Sozialwerk Pfarrer Sieber will pick up small items of furniture for a flat fee, although you’ll need to send them pictures first before they give you a quote. 

Can I put old furniture on the street in Zurich? 

Although less common than many other European cities, occasionally you will see furniture out on the street in front of homes and apartment blocks in Zurich. 

While it might clutter up the sidewalk, it is technically not illegal – provided you only do so for a maximum of 24 hours. 

You also need to make sure it doesn’t block cars, bikes or pedestrians. If it does – or if you leave it out for longer – you risk a fine.

Entsorgungstram: Zurich’s recycling and waste disposal tram

One option is the Entsorgungstram, a mobile recycling centre on rails for all Zurich residents. 

This tram weaves its way through several parts of Zurich, picking up old bulky waste including electrical devices and furniture. 

If you are lucky to live near an Entsorgungstram line, just check the timetable and bring your waste items along to meet the tram. 

There are some rules, as laid out by the Zurich council. 

“The delivered items must not be longer than 2.5 meters (exception: sofa/upholstered furniture can be no longer than 2 meters) and no heavier than 40 kilograms per item. Separate the material beforehand according to its composition: flammable, large metal and landfill”. 

Unfortunately, only pedestrians and cyclists can use this service, i.e. you cannot drive from elsewhere and deposit the stuff. 

More information including route details can be found at the following link. 

Regular waste disposal

Your next option is to see whether you can get rid of it in your usual waste disposal. 

This being Switzerland, there are a lot of rules about what the waste management company will take and will not. 

If you’re throwing away a mirror, for instance, you cannot put that with your other glass waste and will need to dispose of it elsewhere. 

On the other hand, they may take things like carpets and mattresses – although you’ll need to pay a bit extra. 

The exact rules will depend on your municipality, but generally speaking you will need to buy additional waste stickers – which cost money. 

In Zurich itself, every household receives four coupons for disposal of waste (up to 100kg) each. 

When you run out of coupons, you’ll need to pay by the kilo. 

You’ll still need to bring it to the waste disposal facility, or pay a pick up fee of around CHF80. 

This may sound steep, but they do come to your home and pick it up – which will likely be cheaper than a rental car or van. 

In Winterthur, you will need to buy stickers for CHF1.80 from the council, with each sticker letting you dispose of 10kg of waste. 

Check with the retailer where you bought the new item

One option offered by furniture sellers is to buy your old furniture or whitegoods or accept them as a trade in. 

While this is likely to be more common with second hand retailers who might see potential in your unwanted item, it is also a service offered by retailers who only sell new goods. 

One example is Ikea, who will take your old mattress, furniture or electronic device and recycle it. 

This service is available at Ikea outlets for a cost of CHF10 each. 

It is also available when you get something new delivered, although you must pre-book so the driver can be sure to set aside enough space. 

This will cost you CHF80 for furniture, or CHF50 for electronic devices and mattresses. Keep in mind that (at least with Ikea) this service is only available when you buy something new. 

Several other furniture companies offer a similar service, including Schubiger Möbel, Möbel Pfister and Conforama.  

Electrical item retails will often take your old electrical goods for recycling, whether these are small like iPhones or large like fridges and washing machines. 

More information about which goods can be recycled and how in Switzerland is available at the following link. 

Moving companies

Removalist companies are another option – whether you are moving house or not. 

If you are moving house then a disposal service may be included in the overall fees. 

If not, you can still contact the company and get the item taken off your hands. 

While different companies will charge different amounts, you’ll usually pay per 100kg rather than per item, which can be a better (or worse) option than contacting the local council. 

Swiss comparison site Comparis has detailed info about how to find a moving company here

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