The Confederation and the Cantons shall, within the scope of their powers, jointly ensure the high quality and accessibility of the Swiss Education Area. (Art. 61a of the Swiss Federal Constitution, Cst.).
Primary and lower-secondary level (i.e. compulsory education) and pre-school education fall under the authority of the cantons and communes. At upper-secondary level (i.e. post-compulsory education), there are two main sectors: vocational education and training (VET), on the one hand, and general education (baccalaureate schools and specialised schools), on the other.
The Confederation has full authority to regulate the vocational education and training sector (upper-secondary level) and the professional education sector (tertiary level). Collectively, these two sectors are referred to as the VPET system . Implementation of VET-related tasks is coordinated with the cantons and the private sector. The interests of the latter are represented by professional organisations, which decide the training content in their respective area of economic activity. Workplace training (i.e. apprenticeships or traineeships) for VET programmes is provided by member companies of each professional organisation. Around 70% of all young people coming out of compulsory education in Switzerland choose to enrol in a VET programme at upper-secondary level. Dual-track VET programmes (i.e. which combine classroom instruction at a vocational school with workplace training at a host company) are the predominant form of VET in Switzerland. The cantons are primarily responsible for regulating the general education sector (upper-secondary level). An agreement between the Confederation and the cantons exists to ensure national recognition of baccalaureates awarded by general education schools.
The Confederation and the cantons jointly regulate, fund, manage and supervise the two sectors that make up tertiary level: the higher education sector and the professional education sector. The allocation of powers within the higher education sector is set forth in Art. 63a Cst.: ‘the Confederation and the Cantons are jointly responsible for the coordination and guarantee of quality in Swiss higher education’. Both grant considerable autonomy to higher education institutions. The Confederation has authority over the professional education sector by virtue of Art. 63 Cst.
As far as non-formal continuing education and training (CET) is concerned, the allocation of powers to implement, host and fund this sector is extremely complex. The Confederation has the power to specify the principles governing CET and to promote it (Art. 64a Cst.). The Federal Act of 20 June 2014 on Continuing Education and Training (CETA, SR 419.1) implements this mandate. For their part, the cantons may issue complementary provisions.