Studying the system.

AuteurAnderson, Robert

Swiss voters, schooled in the art of the referendum, will face a single important issue at the ballot box come May 21: educational reform.

Switzerland's federal government has decided to present only one proposal for consideration at the first popular vote of 2006: namely, the federal decree of December 16, 2005, revising the Constitutional provisions governing education in Switzerland. Since the proposal requires an amendment to the Swiss Constitution, it is subject to approval by the majority of voters as well as the cantons.

The current picture

The Swiss education system is a complex web of interrelationships among the 26 cantons, the federal government and the communities, along with a mixed bag of standards, supervisory bodies, financing, rules and regulations. There are great disparities depending on the level of education and the type of school, as well as the myriad cultural and linguistic aspects of the system.

Up to now, the Swiss Constitution has granted primary authority over the education system to the cantons, which enjoy considerable autonomy.

The cantons have overall authority over pre-school and compulsory education (primary and lower secondary schools), but the federal government is responsible for maintaining certain standards and ensuring compliance with the principle of free education. The Constitution guarantees the right to sufficient primary education, open to all children living in Switzerland.

The cantons also preside over general education at the upper secondary level and gymnasium, which is an academic high school that prepares students for the university.

The Confederation and cantons share responsibility for higher education. The ten cantons in which the universities are located have supervisory authority over their respective schools and provide primary funding. These cantons also have the power to create and enforce their own particular regulations, but regulatory authority is also shared with the federal government.

The ten university cantons are responsible for upholding gender equality at all levels. In addition, the Conference of the Swiss Universities (CRUS), comprising representatives of the Confederation, the university cantons and non-university cantons, is the body that co-ordinates all higher education matters at the national and international level.

The universities are subsidised by the Confederation as well as the other 16 cantons, and the federal government maintains regulatory control over...

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