Geneva's private universities charge high fees for unrecognised diplomas, probe reveals
An investigation has revealed Geneva's private universities are changing big money for courses that are not even officially recognised, but will the Swiss government tighten the screw?
When it comes to public education, Switzerland is known for its schools and universities, many of which appear high on international rankings. There is another side to this, though, as private institutions are left without much supervision, creating an industry of "universities" with high tuition and low quality of teaching, an investigation by broadcaster RTS has revealed.
In Geneva, in particular, 13 institutions charge thousands of francs per semester and capitalise on their proximity to international bodies such as the UN and WHO offices to sell the dream of Swiss education.
However, the RTS investigation showed that only one of these 13 universities is actually accredited and recognised by Swiss universities.
Many have not even applied for Swiss Accreditation Council approval.
High fees and low educational standards
The main issue is that these "universities" end up charging something like CHR 90,000 for a bachelor's degree that Swiss universities do not recognise - and classes are not even of a high standard, with students reporting cancelled classes and low quality of teaching.
A recent Geneva Observer report has shown how these private institutions are "shamelessly exploiting the global south". With aggressive marketing campaigns targeting Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa (despite the difficulties in obtaining Swiss visas for students from these regions), they seek to attract students and use the "Geneva aura" to sell their products abiding by free-market laws.
“Most Western countries regulate. Switzerland is pretty much the only one that does not practice some form of control over these private schools,” says Craig E. Klafter, former rector of The American University of Myanmar and researcher at The National Association of Scholars.
"Though I am sympathetic with the notion of a free market, we are talking about the Swiss higher education brand here. The profit-driven private schools abroad are the face of higher education in Switzerland worldwide. Swiss authorities are doing a major disservice to their quality institutions by allowing this to go on.”, he added.
Changes set for 2023
Even though Switzerland will remain unregulated regarding private higher education, some changes are set to come in 2023.
The Higher Education Act, which came into effect in 2015, reserves several designations, including "university" and "tier-one college", to higher education establishments accredited by the Swiss Accreditation Council.
Public and private institutions have until January 1st 2023, to clarify their status. After that, those without accreditation "will not be able to continue their activities by usurping the title of 'university'", said Jean-Marc Rapp, president of the accreditation council.
"Consulting the list of accredited institutions in Switzerland is the number one guarantee that you are studying at a serious institution,” he told students.