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This season head to Switzerland... to study!

July 27, 2010 18:04 IST

The developed world might not have completely come out of the dreaded recession, but the latter has taught some bitter lessons to the overseas education industry hitherto bursting at its seams, thanks to hordes of students from India and other Third World countries.

The modern trend is to do part of the study in India and the rest abroad, enormously cutting study costs.

Switzerland is one such study destination which prides itself on its high standard of publicly-funded education and invites overseas students to complete their final years of study in its universities. As a country with few natural resources, its prosperity depends to a large extent on its brain power.

Most people continue studying after the years of compulsory education, and many take further courses throughout their lives. At the same time, the Swiss education system has to deal with new challenges in the face of changes in society and the world.

The country tops in Hospitality and Hotel Management study courses with internship, followed by one year work permit for which students have to find jobs on study completion. If they can renew their job offer they are allowed to stay on work permit but the Swiss government as such does not have any policy on residency status for overseas students.

Recently, during a seminar at Jalandhar, we spoke to Sandeep Sandhu, Director of Patiala-based Pearls Institute of Hospitality and Management. This widely travelled former Indian Merchant Navy Captain threw light on the various aspects of study in Switzerland in the backdrop of his institute's academic tie-up with its Swiss counterpart, HTMI (Hotel and Tourism Management Institute).

Interestingly, the Pearls institute has roped in Australian cricketer Brett Lee as its brand ambassador. Its inaugural four-year academic session begins July 26 with 60 students. Indian students can opt for a paid industrial training in Switzerland in the final year of the BSc Honours course.

Excerpts from the interview with R.M.S. Atwal:

As Switzerland does not encourage permanent residency, how difficult it is acquiring residency permits to study and work in that country?

Well, it is not that difficult if a student follows a proper procedure. To obtain a residence permit, he needs to prove -- first to the Swiss Embassy here and then to the Aliens Police in Switzerland -- that s/he has the financial means to support himself during her/his studies in Switzerland.

S/he can show a bank statement or similar authenticated document as a proof of his sound financial health. Please remember that a student cannot finance his studies solely through supplementary work in Switzerland... The permit allows for a profit-earning activity, as long as his university provides a statement confirming that his employment will not prolong the length of his studies.

In actual practice, many students -- Swiss and foreign alike -- work alongside their studies to earn pocket money and gain professional experience. For foreign students, the number of weekly work hours is limited to 15.

What mainly attracts Indian students to Switzerland?

Today, students are moving to Switzerland and other EU countries because they offer quality and affordable education at par with the West. Since there is no attraction of PR in Switzerland, it is only serious and bright students who go there for higher studies and come back. Armed with an international degree, say in Hospitality and Hotel Management, our students can get highly paid jobs in India. With the service industry booming and lot of MNCs setting up businesses in India, the country will be always in need of world-class managers and chefs, including other support staff.

The Swiss Embassy is known to be tough in giving student visas. Your comments.

Student's' academic records definitely count when it comes to visa for Switzerland, or for that matter any other world's top study destination. S/he should have a valid Letter of Acceptance (from the university of her/his choice) in hand before applying for visa, which means her/his academics have already been evaluated by her/his university. The embassy requires one full year tuition fee to be paid in advance.

Also, a student must have his medical examination before leaving Indian shores.

English is widely spoken in Switzerland and it is not important for students to know the local language. However, if they know French, German or Italian, it would be an added advantage in the job market. For most courses a minimum of IELTS 6.5 bands are required; at least 6 in each module.

However, there are institutions who take students even with 6 bands. Students must submit their visa applications five to six months in advance as the university admission process takes nearly two months and an equal amount of time is required for the visa formalities.

What about job placements there in these recessionary times?

Most students get absorbed within the industry itself as a majority of Swiss institutions are very active. They either have their own hotels or have very close collaboration with other hotels that help students with jobs. Some institutions have very good placement arrangements for students who end up earning between US $1,300  to $2,500 per month during their summer training or internship.

Important info:

Top universities:

There are five universities in the German-speaking part of Switzerland (Basel, Bern, Zurich, Lucerne, St Gallen), and three in the French-speaking part (Geneva, Lausanne, Neuchâtel).

Fribourg University is bilingual in German and French.

Since 1996 there has been a university in Italian-speaking Ticino, with its main base in Lugano. The Federal Institutes of Technology are in Zurich (ETHZ) and Lausanne (EPFL).

Top courses in demand:

Besides Hotel Management, Natural Sciences, Life Sciences, Computer Sciences, Material and Electrical Engineering, Information Technology, Biotechnology, and MBA are in high demand.

The fee structure:

Most Swiss universities are publicly funded, making international study relatively affordable. The Swiss government and some universities also offer scholarships to international students. Some universities require foreign students to pay an additional fee, a pittance when compared to the actual cost of a student to the society, which varies between SFR 50,000 and SFR 150,000 per year.

Warning signals: 

Don't forget that English is not one of Switzerland's national languages, so only a restricted number of courses are taught in it. If you don't speak German, French or Italian, you should be sure to ask about the language of instruction. If you want to study at a private college, you should check its credentials before paying any money. If in doubt, enquire at your local Swiss embassy or consulate. You are not allowed to finance your studies through work, although you can normally work to earn extra money. There are restrictions on the number of hours you are allowed to do this.

R.M.S. Atwal can be reached at