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Switzerland fee reports premature, but signal turning tide in Europe

  • The proposal to treble international fees would only apply to the country’s two federal institutions
  • It has not been confirmed yet, and would need to go through the country’s parliamentary upper house
  • The move itself, according to stakeholders, could be part of a changing tide within Europe against internationalisation

The National Council of Switzerland, which is the lower parliamentary house in the country, has been discussing possible increase for new international students “as part of its financial planning for 2025-28”, multiple university officials confirmed to The PIE News.

ETH Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (or EPFL), to which the increase would apply, previously voted against the proposal in a joint ETH board meeting in March.

But discussions in May led to a renewed vigour from the National Council, which voted in favour of trebling both institutions’ fees as part of cost-cutting exercises for the country’s overall education sector.

“The bill still has to go through the Council of States. So, at this stage, it has not been confirmed,” Corinne Feuz, spokesperson for EPFL, told The PIE.

“As for the impact, given that our current tuition fees are relatively low – CHF 730 per semester – we do not expect a substantial drop in the number of foreign students,” she confirmed.

A spokesperson from ETH Zurich declined to comment when contacted by The PIE.

EHL Hospitality Business School’s chief academic officer pointed out that the proposal would most likely be reviewed in September, and the Federal Council – headed up by the country’s education minister – has opposed the proposal altogether.

“This proposal only affects the two Federal Institutes of Technology and does not apply to other cantonal universities or universities of applied sciences. If approved, the annual fee would be increased by CHF 1,560-4,600 – which is still far below “typical American” tuition fees,” Juan Perellon told The PIE.

Although the National Council’s moves to try and treble fees could be worse, there is still concern that it’s part of a slowly changing tide across Europe.

Recent government communication indicates that Finland, amid rumblings that tuition fees may rise following multiple enrolment dips after introducing them in 2017, is set to charge non-EU students the “full cost” of fees, as well as introduce an application fee for the same cohort.

The application fee proposal would theoretically come into force in August 2025, and the tuition fee increase in August 2026.

Elsewhere in the Nordics, Norway moved to join Finland and Sweden in charging international students from outside the EU tuition fees in 2023 – something it had been debating for some years.

In the Netherlands, there has been a massive upheaval in how international students are treated, recruited and seen in the country; the government is proposing cuts to English language courses, and limits to recruitment of international students and internationalisation altogether. And increases in students from abroad were at their lowest for almost a decade, according to the latest numbers released in May.

There could be even more stringent reforms coming as populist Geert Wilders successfully formed a coalition after a bitter election; while he will not be PM, he will wield most of the power, it’s been claimed.

They are a source of talent for the country… and not a source of revenue for its universities

Corinne Feuz, EPFL

“This is a common trend not only in Switzerland and across Europe, and it could be damaging to education accessibility on the continent,” warned Robert Buttery, a Swiss educator, speaking with The PIE.

“Any increase will not facilitate the recruitment of foreign students and will have varying effects on research and academic excellence,” he said.

Feuz confirmed the importance of international students to its institution, noting their status as a “source of talent for the country, which has a shortage of engineers, and not a source of revenue for its universities”.

“Moreover, once they have completed their studies, they stay – 70% after one year, 53% after five years, and even much longer depending on the field,” Feuz explained.

“We believe that international students play a vital role in maintaining Swiss education’s excellence and leading position.

“Their presence enriches our academic community and enhances the overall educational experience, preparing all students to thrive in a globally interconnected world,” added Perellon.

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