Swiss educational system churns out top results GstaadLife August 3, 2015

One of the complaints I hear from foreigners who move to the Saanenland is the high cost of all services. Well, it’s Gstaad after all, I tell them. What did they expect? But actually, I try to make them understand that they’re paying for quality—a highly trained workforce.

And it’s this workforce that is fueling top economic results.

For the past five years, the World Economic Forum has ranked Switzerland number one in the world in its Global Competitiveness report, listing its education system as being a significant contributing factor.

Researchers at the US-based National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) are crediting the Swiss system for being “a critical component” to its economic success and call it the “Gold Standard.”

Switzerland’s per capita income at $80,000 is the 3rd highest in Europe and the 4th highest in the world, the report states, and “all of this in a nation that produces comparatively few university graduates.” According to NCEE, 70% of young Swiss people participate in the dual-track approach that combines practical training with part-time classroom instruction.

“The system seamlessly connects young people with careers in white-collar and blue-collar jobs through a robust apprenticeship system, keeping youth unemployment rates low.”

The unemployment rate for young people in Switzerland is at a low 3%, compared to 12% in the USA and 22% in the EU.

According to a recent Time magazine article, the Swiss vocational system is being exported to Britain and to India… and perhaps to the USA, where a university degree is widely seen as the only way to success.

When I tell my Swiss friends that I have a diploma in German literature from a top US university, they give me blank looks.

“What can you do with that?” they ask.

“Well… it… it… taught me how to learn,” I respond feeling dumb.

My Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree once gave me a certain confidence, but deep inside, I now feel they are right. Everything I’ve needed in life and in my careers, I learned in high school and on the job, including summer employments as a landscape gardener and as a newspaper intern.

I know people in the USA who are so educated they can’t find work. Some still live at home and refuse to take a menial job to survive. Others are shouldered with immense debt. The expense of going to a top university has doubled since I went: a B.A. degree now costs $200,000.

I am not alone in thinking that a university degree is over-rated. Recent articles in major publications are telling stories of today’s most successful entrepreneurs, who either studied at non-Ivy League universities or colleges, dropped out or who never went to college at all.

A recent TIME magazine article cautions parents about pushing kids to be number one, in light of the fact that the rejection rate at Ivy League universities is 94%. It goes on to say that 70% of students consider themselves above average in academic ability, a mathematic impossibility and setting them up for disillusionment. But the word “vocational” gets a bad rap in the USA. Skilled jobs requiring a two-year degree or less are not even considered by most parents, the article states.

Why is that? Is it really just about social class and the perception that one cannot be socially considered a member of the middle class without a four-year degree?

One commentator on writes: “To enter a vocational training program is broadly seen socially as an admission one is not, and never will become, a member of the upper middle class. It limits ones social prospects, including marriage ones.”

So, I tell my foreign friends who find everything too expensive to revisit their beliefs about quality education and accept the fact that Gstaad is—after all—worth the cost.

Diana OehrliComment