In Switzerland, education is government responsibility (cantonal and/or federal) from the beginning of compulsory education up to and including tertiary level (universities and professional education and training). Responsibility for education lies primarily with the 26 cantons. The cantons and the federal government each have their own responsibilities for post-compulsory education (general education schools, vocational and professional education and training, universities) and thus bear responsibility for these levels of education together. The cantons and their local municipalities finance 90% of public expenditure on education.

Compulsory Education

The majority of students in Switzerland complete compulsory education at a state school in the municipality in which they live. Roughly 5% attend a private school.

Responsibility for compulsory education lies with the cantons. Schools are run by the local municipalities. Because education is locally rooted, tailor-made solutions can be implemented. Attendance of state schools is free of charge.

The total compulsory school period amounts to eleven years. Primary level – including two years of kindergarten or a first learning cycle – comprises eight years. Lower secondary level takes three years. In the canton of Ticino, lower secondary level (scuola media) lasts for four years. Generally, compulsory education sets in for children at the age of four.

Post-compulsory Education

Intercantonal or national legislation generally forms the basis for the education on offer in the area of post-compulsory education (upper secondary level and tertiary level). The cantons are responsible for enforcing this legislation and for the organisation of the schools. The Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology are in the charge of the federal authorities.

After the end of their compulsory school years roughly two-thirds of adolescents in Switzerland switch to a form of education which combines classroom instruction at a vocational school with an apprenticeship in a training company (dual-track system). This provides them with a VET (vocational education and training) diploma and can also be concluded with a federal vocational baccalaureate. Around one-third opts for continuing school education at an upper secondary specialised or a baccalaureate school, which prepare them for tertiary education at a university.

More than 90% of young people complete upper secondary education, which facilitates direct entry into the job market, enables them to attend a college of higher education or – with a baccalaureate from a baccalaureate school (Gymnasium/gymnase), a specialised baccalaureate (Fachmaturität / maturité spécialisée) or a vocational baccalaureate (Berufsmaturität / maturité professionelle) – allows them to continue their education at a university. Altogether 37.5% of adolescents in Switzerland acquire one of these forms of baccalaureate.