Tribune de Genève.
Johann Schneider-Ammann, Swiss president and minister of education wants to make it harder for Swiss school pupils to gain access to Swiss universities.
He thinks students shouldn’t gain entrance to university without high grades in mathematics and their primary language – French, German or Italian, depending on the region. Many cantons, which manage education, with a high degree of independence, are reluctant.
In 2014 in Switzerland, only 20% of 20 year olds obtained the school qualification necessary to go the university in Switzerland – la maturité gymnasiale in French or der gymnasialen Maturität in German. There are however large differences across Swiss cantons. The German-speaking canton of St Gallen (14.2%) had the lowest pass rate, while Geneva with 29.5%, had one of the highest. In Vaud the rate was 23.5% in Zurich 18.7%, and in Basel 30.5% – see map below.
Schneider-Ammann presented his views to the Cantonal Directors of Public Education (CDIP), a group representing all cantons, requesting minimum grades to qualify for university entry, be set higher.
Creating a stir
According to the NZZ am Sonntag, the move has caused a stir. Cantonal education chiefs are happy to place more emphasis on the two ‘core subjects’, mathematics and the primary language, but have refused to change the controversial rule allowing a low mark in one of the core subjects to be compensated with a high mark in another subject. Currently, a 3.5 in maths can be compensated for with a 5 in music or sport. In addition, up to four marks below a pass mark of 4 are allowed.
Swiss schools grade subjects between 1 and 6, a 6 being the highest and 4 a passing grade.
The CDIP has announced that it will look again at the success criteria. Each of Switzerland’s 26 cantons’ plans will be examined between now and the end of 2016.
Those in favour of stricter grading are impatient. Criticism of current lax university entry requirements started 10 years ago. A study conducted from 2005 to 2008, which looked at 3,770 graduates, showed that a “non-negligible” number of graduates had insufficient mastery of at least one of the two core subjects. In 2007, one in four were deemed to have insufficient competence in mathematics.
Franz Eberle, the Zurich professor who directed the study, recommended that grades in the two core subjects, should not be compensated for with higher grades elsewhere.
Cantons not happy
The professor’s recommendations, poorly received by the cantons, who dislike outside interference, have been much discussed but only tentatively acted on. In 2012 the CDIP asked a team to take a closer look. Then in March this year, they agreed to act on the recommendations of this group, which they consider appropriate for “strengthening the overall quality of university entrance assessment”.
The success criteria reiterated by Johann Schneider-Ammann, supported by some Swiss-German cantons, have received a muted response in French and Italian-speaking cantons said one insider.
Several models proposed by CDIP
The first would be to do away with grade averaging and require minimum grades in the core subjects. The second would be to retain grade averaging but give the core subjects a higher weighting. The last would be to require an average of 4 across the two core subjects. “Any thing is possible” claimed CDIP president Christoph Eymann. Many are skeptical however, and see this as another attempt by foot-dragging cantons to water the changes down to nothing.