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Switzerland: calls mount for higher foreign fees

Calls are mounting for higher fees for foreign university students in Switzerland, to cope with an influx of enrolments. Currently some, not all, universities charge differentiated fees to foreigners.

Differentiated fees are becoming increasingly common in Europe after years of political objection

However, Swissinfo.ch reports that the right-wing People’s Party tabled a motion in parliament last month calling for change. It proposes that the country’s top two federal institutes of technology in Zurich and Lausanne charge foreign students double what domestic students pay.

“Swiss universities are funded by the Swiss taxpayer first and foremost for the education of Swiss students,” reads the motion, which was put forward by parliamentarian Peter Keller. “Foreign students are welcome. [But] they should adequately finance their [own] studies.”

“Swiss universities are funded by the Swiss taxpayer first and foremost for the education of Swiss students”

Switzerland has long sought after talented foreign students, but numbers are rising fast. Around 38% of all students in Switzerland in 2011 came from overseas – up from 23% in 1990 – while overall enrolment (domestic and foreign) is up 50% on 2004.

With Switzerland offering relatively low fees (ranging from around US$1,070 to $8,400), questions about how to fund the fast-growing higher education system. More than half of universities already ask foreigners to pay more, in some cases up to twice as much.

Meanwhile, the University of St Gallen has capped foreign enrolments, and there have been national calls to make foreign countries subsidise their students.

The Swiss Union of Students, however, said it was “outraged” by Keller’s plan, calling it a form of “socio-economic” discrimination.

“Many of them will stay on in Switzerland, helping the economy to grow and the country to innovate”

“Foreign students bring higher quality, greater internationalisation and different points of view to Swiss universities,” said union executive member Thomas Leibundgut. “Many of them will stay on in Switzerland, helping the economy to grow and the country to innovate, so investment in their education will be returned.”

Differentiated fees for foreign students are becoming increasingly common in Europe after years of political resistance. A study by the European Students Union found 23 out of 26 countries have special tuition fees for non-EU citizens, with Sweden most recently adopting the idea.

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