Increase in tuition fees – Not a pawn in politics!

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The Swiss Nationalrat (big chamber of the Swiss parliament) voted on Wednesday, the 29th May, to triple tuition fees at ETH and EPFL for foreign students. This decision is not unexpected but it still hurts to see how parliament has decided to interfere in ETH’s autonomy and that ETH’s students now have to bear the burden of this and are being used as financial plasters and political statements. Before this decision becomes final, it will have to be discussed in the Ständerat (small chamber of the Swiss parliament) in september. As VSETH, we will try to make our case heard in the Ständerat and hope, that the Ständerat will vote against. This change would affect newly incoming students at ETH, students already enrolled would not be affected by this and will continue to pay the current fees.

Background – who is considered as a foreign student in this context?

In this matter foreign students are all persons with foreign citizenship who were resident abroad when they acquired their university entrance qualification. This means that people with foreign citizenship that required their university entrance qualification (Matura) in Switzerland are not considered as foreign students in this context.

What is our position on this?

The student associations of ETH Zurich (VSETH) and EPFL (AGEPoly) as well as the Association of Swiss Student Bodies (VSS) are firmly opposed to this measure. The tripling of fees is unsustainable for students, who are already among the financially weakest groups in society, and actively works against the principle that education should be for everyone.

And what does this have to do with being pawns in politics?

On 29 May 2024, the Federal Council published a resolution on ERI (education, research and innovation) for the years 2025-2028. An average growth rate of 2.0% is envisaged for this area. For ETH in particular, the growth rate would be 1.7%. However, to ensure successful development in the area of education, research and innovation, annual growth of between 2.5% and 3.5% is required. This is due, among other things, to rising costs and student growth at ETH (3.5% on average in recent years). In addition, the federal contribution to ETH will be reduced by CHF 100 million for 2025.

Due to these financial restrictions, ETH will have a shortfall of around CHF 200 million in its budget over the next few years. In order to compensate for this deficit, tuition fees are to be increased.

So our tuition fees are being played with to compensate for a financial hole caused by the lack of federal funding.

Is that fair?

Clearly not!

The VSETH strongly believes that students do not have to and cannot compensate for the lack of federal funding. Furthermore, this increase does not result in any actual added value for the ETH budget, as the increase in income amounts to only CHF 16.3 million, which corresponds to a relative increase of only 0.89%. Added to this are additional expenses for increased social scholarships and administrative work associated with such an increase, which reduce this figure even further.

It therefore seems plausible to question whether the main aim of the tuition fee increase is to really solve ETH’s financial problems or merely to stick a plaster on them that cannot save us from the major losses in quality that we are already experiencing today. So we pay more and still get less and less. What is missing is the funding of the institutions.

What other arguments speak against this?

An increase in tuition fees for foreign students would reduce the attractiveness of ETH Zurich for talented students from abroad and thus weaken ETH’s international position. In addition, such an increase would emphasise the financial situation of students, which would further restrict equal opportunities in education. The reduced admission and training of talented people from abroad jeopardises Switzerland as a location for innovation and increases the domestic shortage of skilled workers, which ultimately puts the Swiss economy at risk.

It is important to recognise that the proposed changes are not only dangerous for the ETH Domain. The ETH Domain creates over 100,000 jobs and contributes significantly to value creation in Switzerland. It is estimated that every franc invested in the ETH Domain generates more than five francs of added value for the Swiss economy. This shows that even now, with the same tuition fees for all students, the ETH is already financially worthwhile for Switzerland.

An analysis of the figures shows that the proposed increase in tuition fees would not have a significant impact on the overall budget of our universities. The increase would only lead to additional revenue of around CHF 16.3 million. In relation to ETH’s overall budget, this is less than 1% additional revenue. Moreover, students are a comparatively financially weak group in society and cannot be expected to fill the large hole in the ETH budget. In addition, Zurich is one of the most expensive cities in the world and the cost of living has also risen sharply for students in recent years.

For us, it is clear that the financial bottlenecks in the ETH Domain are not due to a lack of student contributions, but to a lack of growth in federal funding. Instead of making students pay for this lack of funding, it is important that the Federal Council recognises the lack of growth in funding in the ERI Dispatch.

What do we demand?

No increase in tuition fees in the ETH Domain: The current fee structures must be maintained in order to guarantee equal opportunities and maintain the attractiveness of ETH for international talent.

Students are not a pawn in politics: Political decisions must not be made at the expense of students’ educational and future prospects.

Increase financial support from the federal government: The Federal Council and Parliament must provide the necessary funds to ensure the long-term financial stability and growth of the ETH Domain.

What now?

How to stay up to date:

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