In Geneva, private universities sell degrees that are not recognized in Switzerland at a very high price –

Private universities have been issuing unrecognized diplomas at exorbitant prices for several years. However, the situation will soon change. From 2023, the designation university will be protected in Switzerland. Overview of private universities in Geneva and their practices.

Baptiste (assumed name) is from Geneva. He completed the compulsory schooling without any problems, but his entry into the public university did not go as planned. An audience of several hundred students and a lack of supervision made him go. After two final failures, he finds himself expelled from the public higher education system.

As he wants to continue his studies, his only option is the private sector. In his canton, he chooses a high school that promises high-quality supervision and courses. However, reality quickly disillusions him. As the months pass, more and more classes are canceled at the last minute and the quality of teaching deteriorates.

During his second year of undergraduate studies, Baptiste finds himself the only student in his class for several weeks. Everyone else dropped out of the course. Soon after, the Genevan leaves the facility and completes his studies at another private school.

Geneva, the promised land of private universities

For some students, private universities seem like the ideal path. Those who do not feel adapted to the public system see in these institutions a dream curriculum and more appropriate support. But it’s better to be aware of the pros and cons when committing to a bachelor’s degree, which can cost up to 90,000 francs.

We have identified 13 private for-profit universities in the canton of Geneva alone, and the list is not exhaustive. We contacted them all. An overview to understand the conditions under which students of these facilities apply.

Not all schools are in the same boat. While public universities in francophone Switzerland are not currently recognized by nearly all of the institutions in our survey, most of these private schools offer diplomas recognized by other countries.

However, some schools have unpleasant surprises in store. The independent media Geneva Observer collected several testimonies. In May, it published two surveys on the practices of some private educational institutions in the canton, which were based on dozens of testimonies. Unrecognized diplomas, aggressive marketing techniques, the report produced by the Geneva Observer is overwhelming.

We collected the testimony of Ana (pseudonym), a Romanian student. In 2013, she was 22 years old when she decided to leave Romania, where she had just finished her bachelor’s degree in law, to continue her studies abroad. His father, a teacher at the University of Bucharest, advised him to go to Switzerland.

During her research, Ana believes she found the perfect program at a private university in Geneva. She goes there and visits the campus, everything seems completely normal to her. A few days before the start of the school year, however, it is a cold shower. On the Facebook group, thanks to the statements of former students, he realizes that the diploma issued by the school is not recognized. She decides to cancel her registration directly and manages to get a full refund.

A diploma for tens of thousands of francs

The average price per semester of bachelor’s studies in these thirteen institutions is 10,589 francs. In most cases, administrative costs and registration fees are added to the semester price. Students therefore pay an average of almost 65,000 francs for three years of bachelor’s studies. And sometimes the problems start right after the first deposit is paid.

Diane is Cameroonian. In 2011, she is looking for an institution where she could do her master’s degree. A Facebook ad for a private university in Geneva targets her. The family decides to support her financially. In order to apply for a visa at the Cameroon Embassy, ​​Diane needs proof of registration. The university management then asks the prospective student to pay a deposit of 7,000 francs. The Cameroonian pays this deposit, receives a confirmation from the school, but her visa application is rejected.

I was 25 years old. I was very much looking forward to coming to study in Switzerland. I was told that there is no injustice in this country and that the laws are respected.

Diane, a former Cameroonian student

Diane then asks for a refund. To this day, the university has not reimbursed her despite countless attempts to contact her.

Education seen as a market

The treatment of private higher education in Switzerland is unique. “Switzerland is an exception in the management and control of private universities,” explains Craig Evan Klafter, a specialist in the globalization of higher education. According to him, “this lack of oversight and regulation has led investors to view education as an extremely profitable market.”

Switzerland is one of the countries in Europe that least regulates private universities on its territory. For this reason, Switzerland has become a magnet for investors looking to profit from private education.

Craig E. Klafter

In Geneva, the Department of Public Instruction (DIP) emphasizes that: “all private education contracts fall under private law and not the responsibility of the State” and that “this type of activity is carried out within the framework of the economic freedom guaranteed by Article 27 paragraph constitution”.

At the federal level, the Higher Education Support Act (LEHE) is responsible for bringing order to this economic sector. With effect from 2015, it now reserves the designations university, university of applied sciences, university of teacher education, university institute and university-level institute of applied sciences to institutions accredited by the Swiss Accreditation Board.

However, institutions were given a deadline until January 1, 2023. After that, the situation should become somewhat clearer. Institutions that are not accredited by that date “will not be able to continue their activities by usurping the title of university,” explains Jean-Marc Rapp, president of the Swiss Accreditation Council. “Consulting the list of accredited institutions in Switzerland is the number one guarantee of studying at a serious institution”.

Most of the institutions in our survey have not yet taken steps to formalize their programs at the federal level. However, it should be noted that the awarding of bachelor’s and master’s degrees will remain unprotected at the federal level.

Simple but effective marketing techniques

However, this lack of legitimacy does not prevent these schools from implementing various methods to attract future students. “My first instinct was to go to the website,” Ana explains. “It was pretty well done and I had no idea. Over time, websites have become the first showcase of private universities. Institutions do not hesitate to give funds for the development of their sites.

The techniques are diverse and varied: agency images, photos of symbolic places in the canton, Geneva coats of arms, slogans in Latin, sometimes with failure. The private university changed the colors of the Swiss Confederation in its logo with those of the International Committee of the Red Cross on its website.

To ensure their credibility as institutions of global reach, schools can play on a purely geographical element: their proximity to the UN, WTO and other global agencies. Or by chance, most of the addresses are on the right bank.

Some schools claim to maintain links with neighboring international Geneva through the courses offered, the composition of the teaching staff, organized conferences or even the possibility of internships in international organizations based in Geneva. To ensure their promotion, they also emphasize the label “Swiss made”.

>> Listen to Tout un monde’s survey on this topic:

International Geneva, the jungle of private universities / Everyone / 7 min. / July 14, 2022

Education, a new area of ​​investment

This marketing allows “universities” to attract diverse student profiles. Thus, it includes students dropped from the public system after definitive failures or who missed the registration period. However, the main target in general remains foreign customers. In fact, according to Craig E. Klafter, some institutions focus mostly on students who are in desperate need of higher education.

The reputation of Swiss higher education is tarnished by the activities of these private, for-profit universities.

Craig E. Klafter

For the researcher, Switzerland should draw inspiration from its neighboring countries and put aside its “laisser-faire” approach. DIP explains that since this is “an area that falls under free enterprise and freedom of trade (private institutions) as well as free choice of education (students), it is very difficult to imagine a politically acceptable state. intervention”. At this point, it is difficult to know who will enforce LEHE when it actually comes into force next year.

Camille Lanci

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