For a country with limited natural resources, the practical skills and ingenuity of its people have helped Switzerland to excel internationally. Such human resource assets have been honed in institutions that operate within an acclaimed research and education system.
Switzerland's decentralised education system comprises federal and canton-run public universities, universities of applied sciences, university-level institutions, teacher education universities, technical colleges and more than 240 private schools. The system has helped the Swiss maintain top spot in the Global Competitive Index for four straight years. The country's schools provide a qualified labour force responsive to the needs of the labour market and produce an environment and infrastructure conducive for research and innovation.
Key to educating a skilled workforce is the melding of theory with practical experience through vocational courses. Switzerland's Vocational Education and Training (VET) combines school and industry-specific courses with work-based learning in paid apprenticeships.
Students can go to tertiary level via Professional Education and Training (PET), which prepares students for managerial positions. They can also attend the Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS).
Geared to keeping Switzerland's talent relevant, the country's education system deems the role of the private sector crucial. Professional organisations and companies offer advice on the competencies that the market needs. They provide valuable insights on drafting curricula and examination rules for students' courses.
Apprenticeships are available in more than 300 occupations including biomedical, printing and packaging, tourism, human resources, finance and farming. Industry demand determines the number of apprenticeships.
A key industry that emphasises practical learning and internships is the hospitality, hotel management and tourism sector. Switzerland has long been a favoured travel destination and winter playground for royalty and the rich, and has gained a reputation for providing service fit for kings. Switzerland's hospitality and hotel management schools have refined their teaching methodologies and processes to cultivate staff that can manage establishments that provide the highest level of service.
Ranked No 1 in the 2012 Global Innovation Index by the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization and INSEAD, Switzerland is a leader in innovation and research. Swiss research and education are key to the country's global success, thanks to an ecosystem developed to lure the best and brightest talents.
Educational institutes and universities attract doctoral students, faculty and researchers from around the globe. Foreigners made up about half of all doctoral candidates in Switzerland in 2010. Students and researchers are attracted by the academic freedom, generous funding and stimulating environment.
Basic research is conducted primarily by universities such as the University of Bern and federal institutes that include the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne. These institutions help to manage National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCRs), which focus on global topics such as climate, genetics, nanotechnology and space.
UAS institutions such as the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland concentrate more on applied research, with a focus on strengthening links between the private sector and academia.
While the government provides research funds, which total about 3 per cent of total GDP, it refrains from directing where funds are spent in order to remain neutral. It has established independent entities such as the Swiss National Science Foundation to administer the funding. Cross-pollination with the private sector and strong international partnerships enable students to translate their findings into tangible applications that can benefit society and the marketplace.
As competition increases in knowledge economies, Switzerland's educational institutions remain key in keeping the country ahead.