For several years, private universities have been awarding unrecognized degrees at high prices. But the situation will soon change. From 2023, the destination university in Switzerland will be protected. An overview of private universities in Geneva and their experiences.
Baptiste (former name) is from Geneva. He passed the compulsory school course without problems, but his admission to the public university does not go as planned. An audience of several hundred students and a lack of supervision weakened him. He finds himself out of the public higher education system after two recent failures.
As he wants to continue his education, the private sector becomes his only option. He chooses a secondary school in his canton that promises quality supervision and courses. But reality soon disappoints him. As the months pass, more classes are canceled at the last minute and the quality of teaching deteriorates.
In his second year of undergraduate studies, Baptiste finds himself the only student in his class for several weeks. All the others left the course. Geneva will soon leave the institution and finish her education at another private school.
Geneva promised land to private universities
For some students, private universities seem like the perfect route. Those who cannot adapt themselves to the public system find in these institutions the desired curriculum and more suitable support. However, it is better to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages when taking a bachelor’s degree, which can cost up to 90,000 francs.
In the canton of Geneva alone, we have identified 13 private commercial universities, and the list is not exhaustive. We contacted all of them. An overview to understand what are the conditions under which students of these institutions subscribe.
Not all schools are in the same boat. Although public universities in French-speaking Switzerland do not currently recognize nearly all of the institutions in our survey, most of these private schools offer degrees recognized by other countries.
However, some schools have unpleasant surprises. Independent media Geneva Observer collected several statements. In May, the latter published two surveys on the experience of some private educational institutions in the canton, based on dozens of testimonies. Unrecognized diplomas, aggressive marketing methods, the report compiled by the Geneva Observer is overwhelming.
We collected the testimony of Romanian student Ana (noun). He was 22 years old when he decided to leave Romania, where he had just finished his BA in Law, in 2013 to continue his studies abroad. His father, a university teacher in Bucharest, advised him to go to Switzerland.
During her research, Ana believes she has found the perfect program at a private university in Geneva. He goes there and visits the campus, everything seems perfectly normal to him. However, it is a cold shower just days before the start of the school year. Thanks to the testimonials of former students in the Facebook group, he realizes that the diploma awarded by the school is not recognized. He decides to cancel his direct registration and obtains full payment.
A diploma worth tens of thousands of francs
The average price at these thirteen institutions is 10,589 francs for one semester in the bachelor’s degree. Administrative costs and registration fees are often added to the semester price. Therefore, students pay an average of around 65,000 francs for a three-year bachelor’s degree. And the problems sometimes start as soon as the first deposit is paid.
Diane is from Cameroon. In 2011, he is looking for an institution to study for a master’s degree. He was targeted by a Facebook ad from a private university in Geneva. His family decides to support him financially. Diane needs proof of registration to apply for a visa at the Cameroon Embassy. The university administration then asks the prospective student to pay a deposit of 7,000 francs. The Cameroonian pays this deposit, receives a certificate from the school, but his visa application is rejected.
I was 25 years old. I was really looking forward to studying in Switzerland. They told me that there is no injustice in this country, laws are respected.
Diane then asks for a refund. To date, the university has yet to pay him despite countless attempts to contact him.
Education is viewed as a market
The attitude towards private higher education in Switzerland is unique. Craig Evan Klafter, an expert on the globalization of higher education, explains: “Switzerland is an exception in the management and control of private higher education institutions. According to him, “the lack of oversight and regulation has caused investors to view education as an extremely profitable market.”
Switzerland is one of the least regulated private universities in Europe. For this reason, Switzerland has become a magnet for investors looking to profit from private education.
The Department of Public Education (DIP) in Geneva emphasizes that “all private education contracts are not the responsibility of the state, but are carried out on the basis of private law” and “this type of activity is carried out within the framework of economic freedom guaranteed by Article 27 of the Russian Federation. Constitution”.
At the federal level, the Higher Education Promotion Act (LEHE) is responsible for bringing order to this economic sector. Entered into force in 2015, it now reserves institute designations at the level of university, university of applied sciences, teacher training university, university institute and university of applied sciences to institutions accredited by the Swiss Accreditation Council.
However, the institutions were given time until January 1, 2023. After that, the situation should become a little clearer. Jean-Marc Rapp, president of the Swiss Accreditation Council, explains that institutions that are not accredited by this date “will not be able to continue their activities by usurping the name of a university”. “Consulting the list of accredited institutions in Switzerland is the number one guarantee of studying at a serious institution”.
Most of the institutions that participated in our survey have not yet taken any steps to formalize their programs at the federal level. However, it should be noted that the granting of bachelor’s and master’s degrees will remain unprotected at the federal level.
Simple but effective marketing techniques
But this lack of legitimacy does not prevent these schools from using various methods to attract prospective students. “My first instinct was to go to the website,” Ana explains. “It was pretty well done and I didn’t suspect a thing.” Web pages have become the first showcase of private universities over time. Organizations do not hesitate to invest in the development of their sites.
The techniques are varied and colorful: agency pictures, photos of emblematic places in the canton, Geneva peaks, slogans in Latin, sometimes failures. The private university has replaced the colors of the Swiss Confederation in its logo with the colors of the International Committee of the Red Cross on its website.
To ensure their credibility as institutions with a global reach, schools can play on a purely geographical element: proximity to the UN, WTO and other global agencies. Coincidence or not, most of the addresses are on the right bank.
Some schools claim to be linked to neighboring International Geneva through the courses offered, the composition of the teaching staff, the conferences organized or the opportunity to do internships in Geneva-based international organizations. To ensure their presentation, they also highlight the “Swiss Made” label.
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Education, a new area of investment
This marketing allows “universities” to attract different student profiles. Therefore, it includes students who have been rejected from the public system after definitive failures or who missed the registration deadline. However, the main target remains generally foreign customers. According to Craig E. Clafter, in fact, some institutions mainly target students who are in dire need of higher education.
The reputation of Swiss higher education is tarnished by the activities of these private, for-profit universities.
For the researcher, Switzerland should take inspiration from neighboring countries and put aside the laisser-faire approach. In turn, the DIP explains that it is very difficult to envisage a politically acceptable state, since this is an area subject to “free enterprise and freedom of trade (private institutions), as well as free choice of training (students). intervention”. It is still difficult to know who will implement LEHE when it actually comes into effect next year.