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05 มิถุนายน 2555

Engineering Education in Switzerland

Study Engineering

Engineering Education in Switzerland

Education in Switzerland strongly reflects the vocational and professional needs of a small country which is highly industrialised and dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises (SME). Compulsory schooling lasts nine years, but is rarely the end of a student's education. Students must decide whether to follow a strictly science-oriented track and the traditional path to the universities or enter one of the many types of vocational training. Completion of vocational training is a mandatory prerequisite for many types of higher schools. There exists a large number of these and they generally have a high standard. In recent years, the former Swiss engineering colleges have been improved and consolidated to form Universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschule FH), which now offer complementary tertiary level education opportunities. As a rule, their students have met the enhanced entrance requirements by means of a specific apprenticeship programme with increased academic education.

Two types of preparation

(General) Baccalaureate

Academic secondary schools (with various names like Mittelschule, Gymnasium, College) prepare for entrance to traditional universities. Their prime responsibility however is the forming of well-educated personalities who are prepared for life and have a sense of responsibility towards society. Thus, emphasis is more on well-balanced general background than on specialisation.

The Federal Baccalaureate Certificate is the most widely recognised secondary school certificate and is accepted for unrestricted admission to all faculties of traditional Swiss universities and to the two Federal Institutes of Technology. All students preparing for the baccalaureate examination are required to complete 12 years of education, at least 4 of them in academic secondary school. Most of the syllabus is specified. However, a few of the required 9 subjects can be chosen from a broad variety of topics, allowing some specialisation. Also, a project has to be completed, individually or in groups. In the federal examination program all students have to take exams in at least 5 subjects. Grading includes class work performance during the final year in all 9 subjects.

Professional Baccalaureate

At the vocational secondary level, most students enter an apprenticeship contract with an employer. For technical professions, its duration is generally 4 years. Included is a certain amount of part-time school class work (Berufsschule), usually 1 1/2 days a week. Apprenticeship is regulated and supervised by the federal government. It ends with a practical and theoretical examination. Special types of schools (Berufsmittelschule) provide gifted apprentices with more extensive academic training beyond the compulsory instruction, emphasising a general background. Class work in this case amounts to 2 days a week. It prepares for the Professional Baccalaureate, which includes completion of the apprenticeship. It is the regular mandatory entrance requirement for the Universities of Applied Sciences. Grading includes class work performance in all 9 subjects of the Berufsmittelschule and a specific final examination in a given selection of 5 of these.

Engineering education

Engineering education is divided into a science-oriented curriculum track and a syllabus for realisation-oriented engineers. Academic engineering studies are provided by the two federal technical universities, the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology (ETH) in Zurich and Lausanne. The seven Swiss Universities of Applied Sciences offer tertiary-level programmes designed to teach application-oriented, scientifically based engineering.

Federal Institutes of Technology

The Federal Institutes of Technology (ETH) are under the jurisdiction of the Office of Education and Science in the Swiss Department of the Interior. They are mainly financed by the federal state. Besides engineering disciplines, they offer studies in the exact and natural sciences. Entrance requirement is a Federal Baccalaureate Certificate. The studies last 4 to 5 years and lead to the diploma of engineer ("Dipl. Ing. ETH/Ing. dipl. EPF" or "Dipl. arch. ETH"). They also provide the necessary foundation for a research career. After some complementary studies, and upon completion of a doctoral thesis, the research degree "Dr. sc. techn." is conferred. Methodology of engineering is stressed and special subjects are treated mainly as examples for skill developing and for application of theory. The triplet "man, technology, environment" is traditionally an important factor in the syllabus. Both institutes are characterised by nurturing their teaching with their own research, thus securing its actuality. Co-operation with industry is close, on every level. In both teaching and research the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology are held in high esteem by the international science community. They were always able to attract distinguished faculty members, many of them from the international scene.

Universities of Applied Sciences

The seven Swiss Universities of Applied Sciences are regionally distributed. Each one consists of various schools, among them the former engineering colleges. Thus, their respective fields of competence vary, as well as the degree courses they offer. However, they all include Schools of Engineering (and Architecture). Entrance requirement is a Professional Baccalaureate. As a rule Universities of Applied Sciencesare administered by a canton or a league of cantons. Part of their financing is supplied by the federal state. Educational goals are quite similar. The Office of Industry and Labour in the Swiss Department of Political Economy formulates minimum requirements for federal recognition. Of all the students finishing an apprenticeship in a technical profession, approximately 10% enrol in an engineering programme of a University of Applied Sciences. Holders of a general Baccalaureate have to complete a 1-year training programme in industry. The degree programs last 3 years, followed by a thesis project. The degree awarded is called "Ingenieur FH" or "Architekt FH" (or HES/SUP in French/Italian). Universities of Applied Sciences are not only committed to teaching, but also to technology transfer between industry and schools as well as applied research and development. This also leads to maintaining teaching actuality.

The recent developments have brought the Swiss application-oriented engineering education closer to other similar European systems, especially to the German Fachhochschule. The main difference remaining is that in Germany practical industrial experience is integrated using sandwich semesters, whereas in Switzerland the apprenticeship alone serves this purpose. As a result, in the German system practical experience is acquired on a level closer to engineering. Also, in the German Fachhochschule the number of students coming from an academic secondary school is much larger. Backed by bilateral state agreements, graduates of German and Swiss Fachhochschule are considered to be equal. The fact that a similar professional standing can be reached within 3 years of study (compared with 4 years in Germany) is achieved by the lack of practical semesters, considerably longer semester terms and by scheduling the diploma project after the regular study period.

Continuing education

The Federal Institutes of Technology and also the Schools of Engineering offer various post-diploma studies. Typically, they are one-year programs. Some of them are on a part-time basis, with a corresponding study time. A certificate of completion is issued. Post-diploma studies are open to professional engineers, some of them after some practical experience in industry. School of Engineering graduates in good standing may also enrol in post-diploma studies at the ETH.

Complementary formation tracks

Both tracks of Swiss engineering education contribute to providing the broad spectrum of engineers needed in today's industry and society, with a considerable overlap. The federal institutes tend to educate for basic and industrial research and are thus stressing basic sciences and analytical methods. Their graduates contribute to innovation by utilising their broad theoretical knowledge and their abstraction skills. The Schools of Engineering on the other hand emphasise the connexion of science and practical application. Due to their sound vocational education, their students are susceptible to practical aspects and to engineering skills and, after graduation, they immediately find their way to being productive. They are particularly prepared for the executive staff of SME. In the active professional community, twice as many engineers have a degree from a School of Engineering than from a technical university. The same ratio applies to the present graduates. In companies with strong research activities the numbers are shifted the other way. Engineering graduates of Universities of Applied Sciences dominate the field of production.

A graduate from a School of Engineering in good standing may, after passing a corresponding exam, enter the third year of engineering study at a Swiss federal technical university. University of Applied Sciences graduates are also admitted to the first semester in most disciplines at traditional universities.

Two major professional societies for engineers (and architects) are established in Switzerland: STV (Schweizerischer Technischer Verband) and SIA (Schweizerischer Ingenieur- und Architekten-Verein). STV represents the majority of graduates from Schools of Engineering (and the former engineering colleges). SIA is traditionally the organisation for academic engineers, particularly in regulated professions such as civil engineering and architecture. Both organisations do not directly influence engineering education policies and schools issues.

International context

Degree recognition

Graduates from the two Federal Institutes of Technology are considered worldwide to have a Master's Degree. For professional purposes, the diploma of a School of Engineering corresponds to a Bachelor of Engineering degree, or even exceeds it. Graduates in good standing may internationally be considered for graduate studies. Graduates in a FEANI discipline from ETH as well as from the Schools of Engineering qualify for the FEANI register.

Adopting the Bologna postulates

At present, both universities and Universities of Applied Sciences are in the process of introducing the Bachelor/Master concept according to the Bologna Declaration. ETH has decided to formally defer the dual degree "Dipl. Ing. ETH/MSc" for its legacy studies and to offer a BSc degree programme which follows more or less the first 3 years thereof, appended by a diploma project. However, the BSc degree is primarily meant as a hinge for student mobility and not for professional purposes. Universities of Applied Sciences on the other hand are introducing graduate programmes leading to a Master of Engineering. In the course of this process, the permeability between the two education systems is being reconsidered.

European Union programmes

Switzerlandis not a member of the European Union. But, through EFTA and also directly by entering into association contracts it striving to partake in the major EU programmes concerning education as well as technical and scientific advancement.

Switzerland participates as a silent partner of SOCRATES/ERASMUS, e.g. Swiss institutions have entered bilateral agreements with peer institutions according to ERASMUS contract guidelines. The Swiss government provides funding for both incoming and outgoing students. ECTS transparency is widely supported. Translation tables for local grading are being provided; some institutions have even adopted the ECTS grading scheme.