Federal framework and cantonal differences in the evolution of the Swiss VET system. The key period between 1950 and 1970

Swiss VET sector has one major characteristic: although it is regu-lated at national level, there are considerable cantonal differences, particularly with regards to participation in dual-track VET. Analysing VET development in three cantons (Geneva, Zurich and Ticino) between 1950 and 1970, this project identified when these differences emerged and highlighted various factors which determined both the development of Swiss vocational education and training and the differences between the cantons that still exist today.


The project was conducted in collaboration with Prof. Philipp Gonon, University of Zurich.

Although federal legislation on vocational education and training has existed in Switzerland since 1930, the cantons have always retained a certain degree of autonomy, which has allowed them to establish specific policies on VET. This autonomy is reflected in the differences that we see today in the management of upper-secondary education, differences that may be summarised as follows: the French- and Italian-speaking cantons are more inclined to develop policies geared towards school-based education at upper-secondary level (e.g. full-time vocational schools for VET and baccalaureate schools for general education). In contrast, the German-speaking cantons tend to favour the dual-track VET.

Our research project showed that these differences emerged and increased from the period 1950 to 1970. From this time the rates of dual apprenticeship in the Latin cantons consistently found themselves below the Swiss average. 1950 to 1970 was a key period in the development of the Swiss educational system overall. During this period there was an economic boom, an educational expansion, a shortage of skilled labour and growing complexity of the required qualifications. It was during these years that the issues of equal opportunity and the democratisation of education emerged and became a crucial issue in all debate over education in Switzerland.

Our project analysed the situation in three cantons (Geneva, Ticino and Zurich) and showed how they responded in different ways to the challenges presented by these social changes and defined specific VET policies. The major differences relate to five dimensions of differentiation: the role of the cantonal government, the role of companies and professional associations, the role of VET schools, the scope of social policy measures and the aims of VET. Generally speaking, the cantonal government played a more extensive role in the Latin cantons with growing importance attached to school education, and in particular to the full-time VET schools and baccalaureate schools, whereas in Zurich the government played a much less significant role and the VET schools were limited to providing supplementary training for practical apprenticeships as part of a dual-track model. Finally, the Latin cantons clearly set VET objectives which were not just economic, but also social, while in Zurich VET focused heavily on the needs of companies and primarily pursues economic aims. These various elements enable us to explain the gradual increase in apprentices and the moderate rise in school-based programmes in Zurich, while no strengthening of the dual-track apprenticeship was observed in Ticino and Geneva, but instead a strengthening of school-based programmes under the control of the canton.

Co-responsible of the project:

  • Prof. Dr. Philipp Gonon (University of Zurich)

Scientific committee

  • Eric Verdier (LEST, Aix en Provence)
  • Esther Berner (University of Hamburg)
  • Gianni Ghisla (SFUVET, Lugano)
Transfer into practice