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Switzerland, Academic Career Structure

Switzerland

Introduction

Switzerland offers highly-paid positions in academia and Swiss nationality is not normally a condition for access. Foreign scholars (especially those speaking French, German and Italian) work in many university departments. However, academic employers may request that candidates have a previous personal contect with Swiss researchers, which undoubtedly tends to favour national candidates.

 

Higher Education in Switzerland  

In Switzerland, the federal Constitution provides that the federal and cantonal governments coordinate in the organization of the university system. The federal government and the cantons have separate jurisdiction over respectively the two Federal Institutes of Technology and the ten cantonal universities.

Starting in 2001, Swiss universities started to implement the principles of the Bologna Declaration. A new two-tiered system is being put in place based on ECTS credits, which is expected to be fully operational by 2011. Presently, the new system coexists with the old one. Under the new system, a Master's degree (and good grades) are a pre-requisite for undertaking doctoral studies. Under the old system, the Lizentitat/Licence or Diploma (corresponding to a Master's degree level in the US) is a pre-requisite to begin a Ph.D.

Cantons are currently working on the 'Swiss Higher Education Landscape' to improve governance and harmonisation in the entire education system.

 

Career Curriculum

Below you find a list of academic positions in Switzerland:

German (positions are not ranked in a strictly hierarchical order):
Hilfassistent/innen: Research Assistant

Assistent/innen: Lecturer

Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter/innen: Scientific Collaborator

Oberassistent/innen: Reader

Lehrbeauftragte: Lecturer

Gastdozent/innen: Visting Lecturer

Assistent professor: Assistant Professor

Privatdozent/innen: Senior Lecturer (has the Habilitation but not professorship)

Professor: Full Professor (ordinary and extraordinary)

French:
Maître Assistant: reader 

Maître d'enseignement et recherche: lecturer

Chargé de cours: senior-lecturer

Professeur Assistant: Assistant Professor

Professeur Associé: Associate Professor

Professeur Ordinaire: Ordinary Professor

Professor Extraordinaire: Extraordinary Professor

In French-speaking cantons there is also a temporary teaching position:

Professeur remplaçant

In the French-speaking Swiss system, if one is internally promoted within the same institution, one must become first a Chargé de cours (senior-lecturer) which is a tenure-track position that leads to the title of Professeur associé within 6 years (by obligation if the candidate remains in good-standing). If one is particularly successful in research, publications etc. within those six years, so as not to make the candidate wait to join the "Collège de professeurs" and benefit from the Professorial title and privileges, one can be promoted as Professeur Assistant which is essentially tenured. A Professeur Assistant is only not tenured if he or she is a Swiss National Science Foundation "Professeur boursier" as that person is on soft money. Individuals may be hired from other institutions with the Professorial titles but not as Chargé de cours. Importantly, the title of Professeur Assistant is equivalent to Associate Professor in the U.S. and Professeur associé is equivalent to Full Professor without chair. Professeur Prdinaire is a full professor plus a chair of something. Research scientists may become Maître Assistant(e)s  and then Maître d’Enseignement but are also eligible to become Privat Docents and then Professors if they keep up their teaching responsibilities.

Requirements for Positions

In French-speaking cantons, a Ph.D. is required for all positions equal or above a Maître Assistant.

In German-speaking cantons, it is common for Ph.D. candidates to work as a Research Assistant or Lecturer. Depending on the discipline, the Habilitation may be a pre-requisite to access the highest academic positions. This is usually a must for economists, while there is greater flexibility in the area of political sciences. As a rule, the Habilitation is obtained following a major single research project after the Ph.D. It normally leads to the publication of a monograph work. Lately, it has become common to obtain the Habilitation also on the basis of significant, high-impact publications in journals.

While preparing for the Habilitation, one can hold any position but those of senior lecturer and professor. Among the different options, assistant professorships are very requested but there are not many available. Once obtained the Habilitation, one can become either a Senior Lecturer or a Full Professor: it is not necessary to hold the former position in order to gain full professorship.

 

Research Career

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Barriers to Career Advancement

While nationality is not a problem, in order to access the Swiss university system speaking one of the languages of the country is normally an asset. It is also advisable that one has an international study background.

Age can also be a barrier: to have substantial chances of success of moving on in the system, by the time one obtains his or her Habilitation he or she should not be over 35. This informal age limit ends up impacting more on women than men because of maternity.

Lack of funding ends up also putting a barrier to access and career advancement, as valuable positions in the Swiss academia are scarce.

 

Job Security

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Contracts and Duties

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Sabbatical Opportunities

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Gross Salaries

Salaries are set by each canton autonomously and fixed by the law. Jobs in the Swiss academia are usually well paid but one needs to consider also the high cost of life of the country, taxes and payments for the health insurance.

Professor at universities in Switzerland earn the highest salaries in the world. Swiss universities pay their full professors an average of 17,000 francs per month, more than twice the amount that German universities pay (source, NZZ). 

With an average salary of $55,000, PhD candidates in Switzerland earn the most in the world (source, INOMICS).

The table below present gross annual salary levels (in Euros) for 2008 at the ETH, a top research centre in Switzerland. Figures are for Ph.D. studies and postdocs. However, please consider that ETH mainly deals with natural and hard sciences, and that in Switzerland postdocs are much more common in these fields than the social sciences and the humanities.

-StartAverageMax

PhD Candidate/Research Assistant I

40,410
(first year)

--

46,724
(third year)

 

Postdoc/Research Assistant II

 

51,396
(first year)

--

56,700
(third year)

Assistant Professor

--

--

--

Associate Professor

--

--

--

Full Professor

--

--

--

Source: ETH, Human Resources

Salaries and increments at the ETH are fixed by regulations on civil service. Entry salaries are set according to the job description, qualifications and the candidate's experience. Each employee is ranked according to a grade. The annual salary is integrated by the 13th monthly wage andlocation allowance. Salary increments are annual. After 5 years, corporate loyalty is rewarded with premiums. There is also a child allowance of 2,595 for the first child, and 1,675 for each additional child. Source: ETH, leaflet.

 

Number of Existing Positions

------All Disciplines

PhD Candidate

--

--

--

Postdoc

--

--

--

Assistant Professor

--

--

--

Associate Professor

--

--

--

Full Professors

--

--

--

Source:

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Internal Recruitment

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Accessibility for Non-Nationals

In general, access to higher education positions is not conditioned by nationality. Many departments in Swiss universities have a high number of non-Swiss nationals. In order to get a position, there is no need to have a previous work presence or experience in the university. Overall, Switzerland has one of the most internationalized teaching staff in Europe with nearly two-thirds of professors in Switzerland come from abroad (source, ICEF monitor). 

It may be the case that speaking one of the official languages (German, French, Italian and Romansh) and/or having a linkage to one of these countries provide an asset for recruitment. For example, at the end of 2006 the 30% of the 461 professorship positions at the University of Zurich were held by Germans. Rates in each discipline varied from 13% in Law to more than 40% in Economics.

Over half of all professors at the Uniersity of Zurich are international.

At the University of Lausanne, over 33% of teaching staff is foreign. 

At the University of St. Gallen, 48% of the faculty is made up of foreign nationals. 

 

National Universities

In Switzerland there are ten Cantonal public universities in Basel, Bern, Fribourg, Geneva, Lausanne, Luzern, Neuchatel, Sankt Gallen, Lugano (Svizzera Italiana), and Zurich. For direct links to the university websites, go to the federal Secretatiat for Higher Education website.

There are also two Federal Institutes of Technology (FITs) in Lausanne (EPF) and Zurich (ETH). The EPF hosts the Collèges des Humanités (CDH), while the ETH has a department on Humanities, Social and Political sciences (GESS). However, these two research institutions on social sciences and humanities are very small: both the ETH and the EPF are much more concentreated on natural than social sciences.

Some Swiss univiersities occupy high positions in international university rankings. In the Shangai system for 2007 (World Top 500 Ranking), the ETH Zurich is at 27, followed by the University of Zurich (58) and Basel (82). In the European Top 100 chart, ETH is at 5 followed the University of Zurich (15) and Basel (25). The EPF in Lausanne and the University of Geneva rank in the range 35-36.

According to the Times Higher World University Rankings Worldwide Category, the EHT is at 42 (24 in 2006) followed by the University of Geneva (105; 39 in 2006).

Finally, Switzwerland has three Institutes of Higher Education of which two have major links with the social sciencies and humanities: the Institute for Advanced Studies in Public Administration (IDHEAP) and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IUHEI).

 

Research Institutions

The most important research institution in Switzerland is the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). It provides funding both for collective research projects and single researchers. Together with the Rectors' Conference of Swiss Universities it organizes a doctoral programme. Division 1 of the National Research Council supports research in the humanities and social sciences for investigator-driven (basic) research.

Centre for Finance and Development

Centre on conflict, Development and Peacebuilding

Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences

Other funding opportunities: 

Academic Unions

The largest Swiss academic society in the social sciences and humanities is the Swiss Academy of Social Sciences and the Humanities.
 

Useful Websites

Info for History

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Info for Economics

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Info for Law

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Info for Social and Political Science

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Postdoctoral Information

Postdocs not very common in the social sciences and the humanities as much as in the natural and hard sciences. The step that following the Ph.D. is the Habilitation, which enables a researcher to advance in the academic lad to stay within the informal age limit of 35.

 

Websites for Job Postings

Check the following websites for job offers in single universities:

Check also the Swiss Portal for Research and Innovation. The website is mainly about natural sciences.

 AcademicPositions.ch

Sources

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Special thanks to:

Prof Daniel S. Schechter, University of Geneva

Francesco Maiani, MWP Fellow, 2007-2008

Joerg Balsiger, MWP Fellow, 2007-2008.

Chantal Delli, EUI visiting student, 2007-2008.

Page last updated on 28 August 2018