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Federal Act on Continuing Education and Training

The continuing education and training market in Switzerland is heterogeneous and mostly funded and organised privately. The first national law which regulates continuing education and training as a legal framework was only approved by parliament in 2014 and entered into force in 2017.

As a legal framework, the Swiss Federal Act on Continuing Education and Training regulates the following:

  • The entire non-formal continuing education and training sector. In other words, “structured education over and beyond formal education” (Art. 3). This includes all continuing education and training programmes that do not lead to an officially recognised diploma. Non-formal continuing education and training includes individual courses, workshops and self-organised learning groups as well as longer courses. Also included are preparatory courses for higher education and continuing education and training at universities (CAS, DAS, MAS certification).
  • The furtherance of basic skills for adults.
  • The furtherance of continuing education and training by umbrella organisations (information and coordination activities, quality assurance, improvements to continuing education and training are supported).

As the WeBiG (Federal Act on Continuing Education and Training) is a legal framework, the principles for all provisions that govern continuing education and training and are found in special legislation (e.g. in the Vocational and Professional Education and Training Act) apply. The WeBiG, however, is only binding for subsidised continuing education and training. Courses that are not organised and/or funded by the state or cantons are not covered by the legislation. 

Principles

The Federal Act on Continuing Education and Training regulates the entire non-formal continuing education and training domain. The law focuses on five principles:

  • Responsibility: The law maintains: “each individual bears responsibility for his or her continuing education and training”. However, the employer, as well as the government and cantons, should take on co-responsibility by supporting or subsidising individual continuing education and training.   
  • Quality: Responsibility for the quality of continuing education and training lies, as previously, in the hands of the providers. But the WeBiG aims to ensure greater transparency and guarantee improvement in the quality of publicly promoted continuing education and training in four areas: information on what is on offer, the qualifications of instructors, the learning programmes, the qualification process.
  • Acknowledging continuing education and training: The WeBiG instructs the government and cantons to ensure greater transparency in acknowledging educational achievements. This aims to provide better possibilities in the future to take account of continuing education and training and informal learning for formal diplomas and certification.
  • Equal opportunities: The law aims to achieve equal opportunities for publicly supported continuing education and training. Apart from gender equality, the law includes people with disabilities, foreigners and people re-entering the labour market.
  • Competition: The WeBiG ensures that subsidised continuing education and training does not distort competition.

Financing of adult education

Adult education in Switzerland is largely financed by private means. Apart from the participants themselves, companies also make a significant contribution to co-financing training for their employees. In Switzerland, 5.3 billion francs are spent on continuing education and training each year.

It is not known how high the financial contributions from the federal government and cantons are in the field of adult education. What we do know is that it is difficult for a large part of the adult population to finance their own training themselves. Very time-consuming and costly continuing education and training programmes are hardly possible without financial support. Apart from the co-financing by employers, virtually no other support possibilities exist. Employers, however, tend to support especially their well-qualified full-time employees in senior positions.

Therefore, equal access to continuing education and training is not guaranteed. There is a clear need for action and a demand for funding models which are geared to the needs of adults. This means that financial support must directly benefit the people who want to continue their education. This is not the case with subsidising the providers of adult education – as has traditionally been done.

Change of perspective: from supply orientation to demand orientation

Under the heading “demand-oriented financing”, models emerge which specifically seek a more adult learner-oriented form of support in the field of adult education. The focus here is not directed towards the offers by institutions but rather towards the demands by the adult learners. This means that financial support does not flow as subsidies to the providers, but rather to the people who want to continue their education.

Known models of this kind are, for example, scholarships, vouchers or the paid educational leave.