University Politics

101 tuition fees

Everything you need to know about the current tuition fee discussions

Feeling confused or downright overwhelmed? Curious about the (very) vibrant purple and orange VSETH campaign posters? Looking for explanations on the upcoming Swiss parliament vote that proposes tripling tuition fees for foreign students under the ETH Law? Well, you’re in the right place! Step into my (virtual) office, and let me tell you a tale involving budgets, missing millions, and an unhappy student association. Maybe you should sit down… Are you ready? Alright, let’s dive in!

To understand the whole situation we are in, we need to go back in time to autumn last year. At this point in time the federal council presented within their general budget discussions a first draft of the “BFI-Botschaft 2025-2028”, which amongst other things sets the budget of the ETH-Domain for the next years. These budget discussions were led under enormous financial pressure coming from various sides, mainly also due to inflation and the pandemic leaving a substantial financing deficit in the federal budget for 2022. The Swiss Federal Council was thus tasked with meeting financial obligations while adhering to the stringent “Schuldenbremse” (debt brake), resulting in substantial budget cuts across various sectors, including the ETH Domain. Specifically in this draft of the “BFI-Botschaft” it was revealed that the ETH Domain would receive less funding than required to sustain its previous growth rate. In Addition to this, in January 2024, the Federal Council announced a 100-million-franc budget cut for the ETH Domain in 2025. 

Now we are at the beginning of this year and ETH is facing huge budget cuts and also ever growing political pressure to cover costs by different means, i.e. increasing tuition. Here there was one obvious (and also politically pressured for) option for the ETH Board: According to the “ETH-Gesetz,” ETH can charge foreign students at most three times the fee paid by non-foreign students. Now we (i.e. VSETH) comes into play: When we found out about the discussion going on in the ETH board regarding the tuition increase, we set out to stop this increase from happening. We began to meet with the members of the ETH Board to explain to them why such an increase was unacceptable, sought contact with the students at EPFL and wrote a letter to the Federal Council. We did this with support from the heads of the ETH and EPFL schools, who gave a series of media interviews and loudly criticised the lack of federal funding in the ETH Domain. We fought and we won! On 7th March 2024, the ETH Board decided against an increase in tuition fees for foreign students. 

So how come we are now yet again discussing this threefold increase? Well this time it is not the incentive of the ETH board but actually directly coming from the confederation. In the past weeks the finance committee and the committee for science, education and culture of the Swiss parliament decided with a majority to propose to parliament to change the ETH law and make it obligatory for newly enrolling foreign students to pay at least triple the amount of tuition than Swiss students. This change of the law is now part of the discussion this coming Wednesday in parliament, when the whole “BFI-Botschaft” is supposed to be passed.

So now you might be thinking (and quite rightly so): Well shit. Going against the ETH board and getting them to change their minds: possible (and it obviously worked), but the Swiss lawmakers?! And this Wednesday?! Is the battle not lost already? To be frank: Yes, it is an enormous uphill battle and it is not clear if we can actually stop this from happening. But it is incredibly important to make ourselves heard in Bern and to resist this direct intervention of the Swiss parliament in ETH’s affairs! Also it is time to get the media and the public talking about this more diversely and to get our side of things represented more in this matter. VSETH strongly believes that students shouldn’t bear the brunt of symbolic acts or become pawns in political maneuvers and have to literally pay more because of these. The increase disproportionately impacts financially vulnerable students, and VSETH asserts that ETH should remain accessible to all, not just the financial elite.

Also we do have options. If it is decided on Wednesday that the law should be changed, then this is a long process and we would have the right to start a formal petition against this change of the law. This would need 50’000 supporting signatures in 100 days, so again not a minor task but we as VSETH have managed a successful petition before (and okay it was in the 1960s but still…). 

So, what’s the key takeaway? If you’re already enrolled as a foreign or non-foreign student at ETH, congratulations – this change (probably/hopefully) won’t affect you. But don’t let that fact dissuade you from voicing opposition! It is now of the utmost importance to make ourselves heard in Bern; that we won’t be played with like pawns or used as financial band-aids and that we don’t want ETH becoming a place for the financial elite, but to stay the diverse and internationally welcoming place it is!

Now that we’ve (hopefully) unraveled some of the confusion (perhaps replaced by a touch of indignation), it’s your turn to weigh in. Tell us how you feel about the Swiss parliament deciding over our heads how high tuition should be; sign our (informal) petition against the tuition fee increase; tell us how you would be affected by such an increase; post about this topic on social media, etc. The louder we are the better chances we have fighting this change of law.

Thank you for helping us!