Foreign governments, most notably Germany, should help shoulder the cost of their citizens studying at Swiss universities, according to a report from higher education leaders.
The Rectors’ Conference of the Swiss Universities (Crus) will recommend the measure next week as a means to alleviate the growing financial burden on many institutions, according to the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper.
Universities want an international arrangement similar to a current inter-cantonal system that spreads the cost of higher education across the country. A canton that sees residents take up studies in another region will contribute a fee to the canton where the university is based. The lack of such an arrangement for international students is a cause for concern for some cash-strapped Swiss universities, particularly those with a high proportion of foreign students. Swiss universities are funded almost exclusively from the public purse. Some 35,000 foreign students studied in Switzerland last year – with around 10,000 coming from Germany.
German reluctance
The Crus recommendation to fund the growing number of foreign scholars follows a similar demand from the national union of students that was put to the government a year ago. Swiss secretary of state for education and research Mauro Dell’Ambrogio told the NZZ am Sonntag that the subject had already been informally broached with Germany. “The Swiss model could certainly also function internationally,” he said.
But Germany had not particularly warmed to the idea, despite an offer of reciprocal funding for Swiss students at German universities. Germany would end up with net payment deficits under such an arrangement, Dell’Ambrogio noted. However, Crus president Antonio Loprieno refused to give up hope that such a deal could be struck in future. “There is little realistic prospect of such a solution working for the whole of Europe,” he told the NZZ am Sonntag. “A bilateral agreement with Germany, as the largest home country of foreign students,  would be the best solution.”
Last year, Crus looked into the legal possibilities of imposing quotas of foreign students at Swiss universities. They eventually advised members that such measures are legal, but only one university - St Gallen - decided to follow that path.
Other universities, most notably in the West of Switzerland, have a different attitude to the foreign student exodus, arguing that more overseas students raises standards and improves universities’ international standings.