ETH Zurich planning to restrict international admissions in bid to cut costs

ETH Zurich planning to restrict international admissions in bid to cut costs

A new report by the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) has suggested that two of the most famous Swiss universities, ETH Zurich and EPF Lausanne, are planning to restrict the number of international students they allow to come and study, in an attempt to cut costs. Higher tuition fees and entry requirements for expats are also being considered.

International students make up half of those studying at ETH and EPFL

According to the newspaper, around 50 percent of students at both universities are not Swiss citizens. This rises to 80 percent among doctoral students - perhaps not surprising, given that ETH Zurich is the best university in the world outside the UK and the US, and therefore attracts researchers from around the world.

However, unlike other universities in Switzerland which are majority funded by the Swiss canton where they are based, most ETH and EPFL funding comes directly from the government. Now, with austerity measures expected throughout the federal government - Finance Minister Karin Keller-Sutter has recently demanded all departments cut their budgets by 2 percent - both universities have put forward plans to balance their budgets.

New plan to cut international admissions in order to cut costs

According to the NZZ, a number of different solutions are on the table, the first among which is to limit the number of international students coming to study in Zurich and Lausanne by implementing what is called a “numerus clausus.” Under this system, both universities would be limited in the number of applicants they accept from abroad, reducing their total student body and therefore saving on costs - although this would logically also require a reduction in teaching staff.

Another plan, according to the newspaper, is to increase tuition fees for non-Swiss students. Currently, both Swiss and international students have to pay 730 (ETH Zurich) or 780 (EPFL) francs per semester to study. In order to increase revenue, both have now considered increasing tuition fees for non-Swiss applicants.

Finally, both have debated increasing the entry requirements to attend courses. However, given that both universities are already highly demanding when it comes to submitting qualifications, it is unclear how these requirements would change.

Many Swiss political parties support fewer places for expats

Speaking to numerous political figures in Bern, NZZ found that some political parties, like the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), would “jump at the chance” at imposing numerus clausus, with one figure telling the newspaper that they would like the policy implemented on people studying social sciences first, as there are too many internationals studying these courses for too long. 

The SVP, along with a number of other parties, also said they would be in favour of raising tuition fees for international students. One representative from the Middle Party said that “what is important is that the Swiss should not pay more.” Finally, FDP. The Liberals confirmed that they would accept raising the entry requirements at both universities.

ETH Zurich to discuss the plans in March

However, all the plans face heavy opposition from some political parties and both student associations, who told the NZZ in a statement that they believe the “unequal treatment” between Swiss and foreign students would be impossible to enforce legally, not to mention that reducing the size of the student body would mean many academics would lose their jobs. The ETH Zurich board is set to meet in March to discuss what to do next.

Image: / EQRoy

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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