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What financial aid are foreign students entitled to in Switzerland?

The academic year in Swiss universities started on September 19th, with thousands of foreign students enrolled in many of the country’s higher education institutions. but are they entitled to any financial help whilst in the country?

What financial aid are foreign students entitled to in Switzerland?
Some aid is available to foreign university students in Switzerland. Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash

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.

Because of their reputation for high-quality education, scores of international students apply to one of these schools each year, according to the Federal Statistical Office (FSO).

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.   

EXPLAINED: How can foreigners get into a Swiss university?

As the article linked above explains, “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.

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

But that’s not all : 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.

Speaking of health policy, whether or not you need to buy one in Switzerland depends on where you came from and what kind of plan you have in your home country:

Do foreign students in Switzerland need to get a Swiss health insurance policy?

Are foreign students entitled to Swiss financial aid?

The expectation is that anyone from abroad should support themselves financially while studying in Switzerland.

But that is often not the case.

In such 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.

Individual universities also offer some assistance.

University of Geneva, for instance, offers a stipend, designed especially for students who cannot benefit from the cantonal scholarship, including foreigners.

This site explains who is entitled to such assistance and how to apply.

As for ETH in Zurich, it offers some funds for both Bachelor and Masters-level students from abroad.

The conditions are outlined in this PDF document.

The situation is similar at ETH’s sister institution, the Federal Polytechnic Institute of Lausanne (EPFL), which offers help for foreign students who fulfill certain criteria.

Most other Swiss universities also have some sort of programmes to help foreign students financially, although none will offer enough money to help finance studies 100 percent.

 It is best to contact your university directly to find out what, if any, financial aid is available to foreign students, and under what conditions.

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For members


Swiss universities still highly ranked but slip in ratings

While ETH Zurich is still the best university in continental Europe, overall Switzerland’s higher-education institutions dropped in international ranking.

Swiss universities still highly ranked but slip in ratings

Zurich’s Federal Polytechnic Institute (ETH) has been named the best university in continental Europe by the 2022 QS World University Rankings of 1,422 universities, compiled by global higher education analysts, QS Quacquarelli Symonds.

Although it retained its title, ETH Zurich lost one place compared to the previous year, falling from eighth to ninth position. The eight best universities are all in the UK and the United States.

ETH, a public research university focusing exclusively on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, holds its top position in continental Europe for the 15th time in a row.

Of the 10 Swiss universities listed, three — including ETH’s sister school, the Federal Polytechnic Institute of Lausanne (EPFL) — are in the top 100, and seven in top 250.

However, QS points out that eight Swiss institutions lost their rank. “Only the University of Basel is progressing, while the University of Italian Switzerland remains stable”.

All the universities are judged based on criteria such as academic and employer reputation; faculty citations (measuring research impact); the faculty/student ratio (teaching capacity index); and the international ratio of professors and of students (measure of the internationalisation of a university).

“ETH Zurich enjoys the best international reputation in the country, ranking 18th and 51st globally in academic and employer reputation indicators,” QS said.

Other Swiss universities rated in the survey are University of Zurich (83th place), Bern (120th), Geneva (125th), Basel (136th), Lausanne (203rd), Svizzera Italiana (240th), St. Gallen (501), and Fribourg (571).

You can read more about the winner the ETH, here:

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