On 14 June 2015 Swiss voters will decide whether to increase tertiary student bursaries and make them a federal rather than a cantonal matter. Presently, bursaries are determined and paid by cantons and vary significantly from canton to canton. In 2013 the highest annual average of CHF 9,365 was in Vaud and the lowest of CHF 3,784 in Neuchâtel. The Swiss average was CHF 6,590, with Zurich near the high end of the range at CHF 8,335. Around 7%1 or 48,0001 students received a bursary in 2012.
The proposal would remove these cantonal differences and substantially increase the minimum living income. Those behind the initiative say it would guarantee a hefty minimum student income of CHF 24,000 a year – more than the average take home pay in a number of EU countries. They calculate the additional cost of this to taxpayers would be CHF 500,000,000 annually.
The initiative, if successful, would replace a recent agreement on bursary harmonisation that went into force on 1 May 2013, which 16 cantons have signed.
Arguments in favour of the proposal
Proponents of the proposal assert that more needs to be done to ensure that everyone, even those from low-income families, can access tertiary education without going into debt. They see a need to further level the playing field.
Arguments against the proposal
Opponents argue that education and bursaries are cantonal matters and a federal system would encroach on the independence of cantons that better know their educational needs and those of their students.
They also worry that the proposal is unaffordable and maintain that the recent agreement to harmonise bursaries across cantons is sufficient.
Federal Council and Parliament reject the initiative
The National Council voted against the proposal with 135 votes against, 58 for and 2 abstentions, and the States Council cast 32 votes against, 12 for, with 1 abstention.
The Swiss debate around keeping students out of debt is a far cry from tertiary education in the U.S. where the average annual cost of study is close to US$ 40’0002 annually and average student debts upon graduation are about the same amount2.
Federal Council website (In French)