Switzerland: FOREIGN QUALIFICATIONS Federal Court ruling underlines university mobility


Switzerland’s Federal Court has sided with a foreign student who says he should have been accepted to Lucerne University, thereby establishing that all Swiss universities must operate under the same model when accepting students from elsewhere with equivalent qualifications.

Currently, each Swiss university decides individually which foreign qualifications it will accept to allow non-Swiss students to gain admission. The Federal Court’s decision establishes that going forward, the universities must all adhere to the terms of the Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region, the so-called Lisbon Agreement.

That agreement, which Switzerland signed in 1999, guarantees that students can only be denied access to universities in participating countries if there is an “essential difference” between the admission requirements in the desired country of study and the qualifications achieved in the student’s country of origin.

The German student whose case came before the Federal Court was denied entry into the University of Lucerne’s Bachelors programme in law because he had not had continuous instruction in physics during his final three years in school. He had, however, had two years of instruction in biology, chemistry and physics.

The court ruled that the University of Lucerne had been too strict in its demands for qualification in this case. It also ruled that universities in Switzerland can only deny a foreign student entrance if they can prove in individual cases that his or her qualifications are not equivalent to the Swiss baccalaureate.

The court wrote that universities may not use “overly stringent criteria that would make the meaning and purpose of higher education mobility in Europe difficult”.

Zurich’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper concluded that Monday’s verdict would lead to questions over whether to make the Swiss baccalaureate more difficult to achieve, as many have advocated. Swiss students, the paper said, will have a harder time meeting the requirements for university than foreigners if universities must always prove their adherence to the terms of the Lisbon agreement.

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