Access to education

Switzerland

Country Report: Access to education Last updated: 14/05/21

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Compulsory education

All children under 16 must attend school according to the Federal Constitution. For the first stage of reception, schooling is provided within the federal asylum centres as provided by Article 80(4) AsylA. As education is a matter of cantonal competence, the federal asylum centres in each region should determine with the competent cantonal authority the modalities for schooling. Thus, there are significant differences in the location, maximum age of admission, number of hours of classes per week and their content between the different centres. Schooling mostly takes place inside the federal centres in school rooms provided by the Confederation. In the centres visited by the NCPT in 2019 and 2020, classes were taking place at least three days and up to five days per week and were provided by teachers by training. In a few centres, there was ambiguity regarding whether children between 15 and 16 could attend classes and the lack of occupation programs for this age was reported.[1]

In 2020, Save the Children has developed recreational material for children residing in federal or cantonal asylum centres with different kinds of activities and tasks that can easily be done also during quarantine or restricted possibilities for social contact.[2]

After allocation to a canton, the organization of schooling varies from one canton to another, as the school systems can differ in significant ways between cantons. In fact, the schooling of children is under cantonal authorities. In some cantons, children attend special classes for asylum seekers at their arrival (for example Solothurn), while others directly join the usual education system, mostly without knowing the language well (Basel-City). Some cantons organise special language classes for newly arrived asylum seekers (French, German or Italian according to the canton), until the children are able to join public school (Berne, Zug). In the canton of Grisons (GR), temporarily admitted children are – due to the alleged provisional nature of this status – educated in special classes together with asylum seekers.

The schooling of young asylum seekers may raise some difficulties for local schools and teachers, since some of the children stay for a short and undefined period of time. Educational background and language knowledge may also be very variable from one child to another. Such issues are usually sorted out at the municipal level and may therefore be influenced by political or even personal sensitivities on the general issue of migration. Specific problems may also arise for children whose parents’ asylum application has been rejected or dismissed but who refuse to leave the country. Children have the right to continue to attend class as long as they are present in Switzerland. However, in some cantons children in emergency assistance only have the right to a special class with other children in emergency assistance. Other cantons leave the children in emergency assistance and their families in the regular structures, so that no change of school is necessary and the best interests of the child can be taken into account.

Furthermore, access to primary education can be hindered by the issue of age determination. Children who are considered to be over 16 have in principle no access to compulsory education.

Apprenticeship and studies

Lack of access to further education, in the form of an apprenticeship or studies, is an important problem in the integration process of asylum applicants over 16. Although the legislation allows asylum seekers to enter education programmes, many practical and administrative impediments deter potential employers to hire asylum seekers whose procedure has not been concluded yet. As asylum procedures may last for years (although the average length has significantly decreased with the asylum reform), it may happen that young girls and boys stay excluded from the higher education system during one of the most important periods of their life. In addition to the great difficulties that young asylum seekers face in finding an apprenticeship or to be accepted in a higher school,[3] they can also be confronted with the problem of financing their studies as they are excluded from the public scholarship programmes. Financing of post-compulsory education for asylum seekers is therefore highly dependent on the goodwill of cantonal and municipal authorities.

Some cantons adopted specific measures to bridge the educational gap that asylum seekers between 16 and 18 face. Such non-compulsory measures are highly dependent on the communal and cantonal authorities, as well as from NGOs like Caritas, which has set up some specialised programmes for young migrants in some cantons.

Pursuing of apprenticeships for rejected asylum seekers is currently problematic, since young asylum seekers are often obliged to interrupt their training after a negative decision. In December 2020, the National Council has accepted a political motion to solve this problem and allow these people to finish their apprenticeship before the removal decision being enforced.[4] However in future there will no longer be many of such situations given the acceleration of the asylum procedures since 1 March 2019.

[1]  NCPT, Report on federal asylum centres 2019-2020, p. 36.

[2]  Available to download at: https://bit.ly/3vIGj2V. Save the Children has also created a Webpage for asylum seeking parents with much useful information and material, available at: https://bit.ly/3xOsx0F.

[3] The apprenticeship is the most common form of post-compulsory education in Switzerland. The apprentice learns a profession over 3 to 4 years within a company, while attending theoretical classes 2 days a week. First condition to access the apprenticeship is to get an apprenticeship contract with a company, which proves to be a difficult task even for young Swiss nationals. 

[4]  On this topic, see the News on the Refugee Council Website: https://bit.ly/36ZQ2YC.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection