Everyone's heard of Switzerland's reputation for quality hospitality education, so it was no surprise that studying and working there was high on my agenda in gaining a stellar start to my hotel career," says Jitendra Jain, an Indian national working as an e-commerce manager with a reputed global five-star hotel chain in Dubai.

Switzerland's natural beauty, disciplined lifestyle and tradition of excellence especially in the field of hospitality-related education motivated Jain to study there.

"The country features more than 14 recognised hotel schools. I chose the Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality (SSTH) in the country's German-speaking region because it had an established English programme, a diverse mix of international students, a great location in the mountains and a more hands-on approach to teaching hospitality," says Jain, who also attended the English BBA Tourism and Hospitality programme at Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft (HTW Chur).

Reputation for hospitality

"I would certainly recommend Switzerland as an option to pursue hotel management studies. Studying here provides a good insight into global hospitality approaches, a chance to experience the European mindset and work environment and also helps build lasting personal and professional relationships."

Jain's positive testimonial is one among many from international students who come to Switzerland to pursue an education in subjects such as hospitality management, business management, economics and social sciences.

Swiss hotel schools, which rate among the best in the world, have students from Europe, North and South America and Asia. "The reason," says Hans Hauser, Consul General of Switzerland in Dubai, "is that tourism is one of the prime industries in Switzerland.

In living up to its reputation as the epitome of efficiency and immaculate execution, Swiss hospitality has had to offer exclusive and exemplary services to guests. This endeavour has also led to the creation of education programmes to bring out the best in students opting for careers in this field."

Most of the leading hotel management schools are members of the Swiss Hotel Schools Association (ASEH). These include: Schweizerische Hotelfachschule Luzern, Glion Institute of Higher Education, Ecole Hôteliere de Geneve, Les Roches Swiss Hotel Association School of Hotel Management, Belvoirpark Hotelfachschule Zürich, Hotelfachschule Thun, HIM Hotel Institute Montreux, Institut Hôtelier 'César Ritz', SSTH Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality, SHMS Swiss Hotel Management School, University Centre 'César Ritz', DCT International Hotel and Business Management School, SMU Swiss Management University, IHTTI School of Hotel Management and SSAT Scuola Superiore Alberghiera e del Turismo.

According to ASEH, all members have the highest educational and professional standards as stipulated in their bylaws. A school has to undergo a strict procedure of accreditation to become a member of the association. Quality standards are also monitored stringently every four years (each school has to be evaluated by an expert team and checked on more than 100 criteria).

The language of instruction (French, German, Italian and/or English), fees, duration of programmes and availability differ among schools. Students have the option of several programmes ranging from a hotel management diploma, which lasts up to a year with internships, to bachelor and master's degrees.

Swiss universities and business schools also have a growing percentage of international students. In an interview published in the Swiss Learning magazine (Autumn-Winter 2006-07), Swiss Minister of Education Pascal Couchepin said that the percentage of foreign students in Swiss universities was between 20 and 25 per cent. Some of the country's well-known universities are located in Basel, Bern, Fribourg, Geneva, Lausanne, Lucerne, Lugano, Neuchâtel, Saint Gallen and Zurich. A number of these universities also have programmes in English and offer bachelor, master's and doctoral degrees in faculties such as arts and humanities, social sciences and economics, law and theology.

Research universities

The University of Bern, for example, offers more than 130 degree programmes and is also known internationally for its quality of teaching and research. The University of Geneva, which offers a wide range of programmes in the field of science, is also ranked among the top research universities in Europe. Of the student population at the university, 38 per cent are international.

The University of Fribourg has about 10,000 students from more than 100 countries. The Swiss Federal institute of Technology also offers a range of programmes in engineering and natural sciences. Another institute known for its engineering and computer science programmes is the Ecole Polytechnique Federale De Lausanne.

Several Swiss educational institutions, including private ones, have been exploring the possibility of attracting students from the Gulf. The recent Global Education and Training Exhibition (Getex) saw a Swiss delegation comprising the University of Saint Gallen, University of Business and Finance Switzerland, European University and SSTH.

The University of Saint Gallen, one of Europe's leading business schools and public universities, offers a full-time MBA in English and various executive MBAs in addition to undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate programmes. "The university has also joined hands with Singapore's Nanyang Technological University to offer an MBA double degree programme, taught both in Switzerland and Singapore," says Patrick Sonderegger, Director of Marketing and Communications, University of Saint Gallen.
Sonderegger says that the university is also taking steps to increase the cultural diversity of its students by offering additional places to students from focal countries outside the European Union. The university also has some places for students from East Asia and the Gulf.

The University of Business and Finance Switzerland (UBFS), a private business school focusing on professional education, also hopes to attract more students from the region. Andre Schaffner, President of UBFS, says that the university was started on the initiative of the finance industry in Switzerland to offer training in subjects such as finance, insurance and mutual funds.

"However, with the support of the industry we have added more subjects such as banking operations and risk management. We also have an excellent faculty comprising professionals from the banking and finance industry," he says.

The university offers bachelor's and master's programmes in English and has a growing community of international students. Since the Swiss government does not recognise private universities, UBFS also has an affiliation with the University of Wales to help students earn an international public degree (in accordance with the Bologna system recognised in Europe).

Another private university that was part of the Swiss delegation at Getex was the European University. This was one of the first private business schools in Europe to implement the standardised degrees required in the European Union by the Treaty of Bologna.

Luc Craen from the European University's admissions and international relations department says the university offers a range of programmes for working professionals, including an Accelerated Bachelor of Business Administration, an executive MBA, a flex MBA and a cross MBA, which incorporates distance learning and weekend classes.

The university has a high percentage of international students, including students from the GCC. Craen says that a number of students from the GCC opt for the university's wealth management programme.