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Switzerland moves to triple fees for internationals studying at ETH and EPFL

Switzerland moves to triple fees for internationals studying at ETH and EPFL

The education commission of the National Council has voted in favour of tripling tuition fees for international students studying at Switzerland’s federal universities, ETH Zurich and EPF Lausanne. Lawmakers have argued that the plans will help secure both institution's finances, though both universities have called for the idea to be scrapped.

Swiss tuition fees for internationals could be raised to cover budget cuts

Last week, by 21 votes to three, the Committee on Science, Education and Culture in the Swiss National Council voted in favour of increasing tuition fees for internationals at the Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich and Lausanne. Under the plans, non-Swiss students would have to pay 2.190 francs per semester (4.380 francs a year) to study at ETH or EPFL, up from the current rate of 780 francs.

The plan follows an announcement from the Swiss government, which confirmed that it would be cutting funding for both federal universities by 100 million francs a year from 2025, alongside a one-off cut of 100 million francs for the same year. The cuts are part of a wider federal effort to cut spending so that Switzerland abides by its debt brake mechanism moving forward.

Writing in a statement, the board in charge of ETH and EPFL noted that these expected cuts have forced them to “not carry out several projects and initiatives” related to issues that are in the “national interest.” These projects range from investigations into sustainable agriculture to electron microscopy and human health.

Far cheaper to study at ETH Zurich and EPFL compared to UK and US

With the plan, lawmakers argue that rather than cutting programmes or limiting student numbers, both universities would be able to maintain funding and research by tapping into the increase of international students at ETH and EPFL. According to 20 Minuten, non-Swiss student numbers at both institutions have increased by 293 percent in the last 20 years, and today, 60 percent of EPFL students are not Swiss citizens

They added that international students pay dramatically less in Switzerland than they do in America and the United Kingdom, despite ETH Zurich and EPFL being ranked as equivalent to most top UK and US institutions. Indeed, 20 Minuten calculated that if ETH charged the same international student fees as Oxford, the university would see its income rise by 230 million francs a year.

Swiss federal universities opposed to higher tuition fees

However, in a statement, the ETH board wrote that it did not want the government to raise tuition fees for international students. “The ETH Board considers that equal treatment and diversity, favoured by the presence of foreign students, are important values ​​for offering excellent quality education,” they noted, adding that the diversity of the student body was one of the reasons why ETH does so well in university rankings.

Those who opposed the plan in the commission also argued that the higher fees could put less affluent students off studying, and eventually working, in Switzerland. The ETH board agreed, noting that “given the shortage of qualified labour, [our refusal] also takes into account the interests of the Swiss economy.“

With the plan having been approved by the commission, it will now be up to parliament to decide whether to move forward with the fee increase.

Thumb image credit: Judith Linine / Shutterstock.com

Jan de Boer

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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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