Finland, Norway, Sweden, all these countries are seen as the dream country to raise your children, but have you ever heard about Switzerland? I’m not talking about its chocolate, inventors or its capability to shelter its entire human population in nuclear fallout shelters in the event of a nuclear war; in fact, what is more intriguing it’s their education system and the possibility of it being strongly related to the Swiss economy.

Swiss Education System in a Nutshell

Image 1: Swiss Education SystemImage 1: Swiss Education System

The Swiss educational system is decentralized, and the cantons (member states of the Swiss Confederation) are responsible for providing educational services. Therefore, some content may vary significantly from one canton to another. Nevertheless, the general structure consists of eleven years of free compulsory education. Now, here’s what’s peculiar: at the end of the primary cycle (6th grade), students make some theoretical and psychotechnical tests in order to be selected to different schools according to their specific characteristics, competences and psychotechnical trendsStudents with lower grades or with more practical competences go to Oberstuf, a school more vocationally oriented; depending on their success as students, they can choose the area they want to study and take a 3-year course in a dual system – 1 day per week having theoretical classes and 4 days doing an internship. Everyone can take as many as courses they want to. On the other hand, students with the best grades tend to go to Gymnasium, ending up with more theoretical and intellectually demanding programs so they are well prepared for tertiary education.

Now, while this intervention and channeling of students from an early age may seem discriminatory, cruel and rushed, in fact, it may be a key factor for the Swiss Economy success. It is also interesting and useful to compare the performance of Switzerland with another European country. In order to do so, Portugal was chosen.

Note: The analysis will be focused on the population with upper secondary and post-secondary education. All statistical data was provided by PORDATA.

Key indicators

I. Early Leavers from Education

Concerning the early leavers from education and training between 18 and 24 years old, both countries show a significant decrease. However, Portugal has made a bigger effort on this, by lowering the rate of 40,1% in 1996 to 12,6%, in 2017. Switzerland, on the other hand, already had a very low rate of early leavers in 1996 (6,1%), even though it also got lower over the years, reaching a rate of 4,5%.

In both countries if students are having low academic performance, school is in charge of talking to their parents. However, in Switzerland they give a special attention to the discouraged students by having social workers that make sure they do not drop out easily of the courses: if they don’t like the course, they’re immediately accompanied in order to find the course that fits them better. This may explain the low rate of early leavers in Switzerland when compared to Portugal.

II. Population with upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education 

The part of population with upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education, in percentage of the population between 25 and 60 years old, increased in Portugal and decreased in Switzerland. However Switzerland’s values are still very high comparing to Portugal’s. In Portugal, it started with a 10,8%, in the first year of analysis, and had a 23,9%, in 2017. However, Switzerland shows significantly bigger values in these periods, having 61,4% in 1996 and 42,5% in 2017, twice Portugal’s rate.

In Switzerland, as you finish any vocational course you are considered specialized in that area, having a certificate that is highly valued by the companies. This is an incentive for students who want to take these courses. Unfortunately, in Portugal, professional courses are not as valued by neither the students nor the employers – they’re seen as an alternative way of ending compulsory education rather than being a way of getting instructed in a future viable employment. The exception seems to be tourism and hospitality schools, which have been rated as good and reliable vocational schools. In the end, this is a possible reason for this difference between the rates. This said, a lot of firms find themselves constrained in their business growth due to the lack of qualified workers in the industrial area, such as electricians, mechanics or even locksmiths.

III. Unemployment rate by level of education

 When analysing the unemployment rates (considering population from 15 to 74 years) in these two countries, it’s clear that they are both increasing, with Portugal at a higher pace than Switzerland. Between 1996 and 2017, Portugal went from a rate of 7,4% to 8,87% while Switzerland went from 3,7% to 4,8%, keeping it substantially low.

 When going through the unemployment rate by levels of education, one can observe that this rate is higher for people with lower education, referring to 2017, in both countries. However, concerning post-secondary non-tertiary education, there is a huge difference between the two countries:

None or Primary Education:

  • Portugal: 9,8

  • Swiss: 8,3

Post-secondary Non-tertiary Education:

  • Portugal: 9,9

  • Swiss: 4,7

Tertiary Education:

  • Portugal: 6,5

  • Swiss: 3,8

The lower rate of Switzerland may be explained not only by the facts supra mentioned but also due to the fact that at the end of the vocational formations, most of the students are automatically hired by the firms where they worked during the 3-year internship, as they already have confidence in their abilities and commitment.

Furthermore, this education system reflects the real needs of the country: they change the number of course vacancies depending on the demand and supply of the labor market. This way, one could say that the government tries to maximize the efficiency between unemployment rate and the lack of people in some sectors. This is one of the strongest points where any kind of relation between the existing courses in the education system and the economy of this country can be inferred.

Wrapping up

 Swiss companies do not need to waste their main resources – time and money – in workers’ training – the employees already know exactly what to do and how they should behave within the company. This is one of the most impactful advantages of the Swiss system. Firms obtain young and qualified workforce and schools obtain a high level of employability in their courses, while students get a certificated course and will find a job much more easily. Besides being excellent for the macroeconomics of the country, it also allows everyone in the country to have professional and inclusion opportunities.

Switzerland is a country that regards knowledge and education as a key of its development.


MARIANA - INGLÊS Mariana Inglês VLADYSLAVA - SHOTURMA Vladyslava Shturma

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