Switzerland has great traditions in the field of education, not only as regards primary education, but also for higher culture. The humanistic greatness of universities such as that of Basel is now matched by the well-deserved fame of technical, scientific and commercial teaching. The extraordinary flowering of Swiss school life is explained by the great freedom that exists in that country. All school legislation is in fact left to the cantons, with the following constitutional limitations (since 1874, art. 27 of the constitution): the cantons must guarantee primary education, which must be “exclusively state” (thus excluding teaching ecclesiastical, but not private schools), compulsory, free, non-denominational; the law of 25 June 1903, integrated on March 15, 1930, provides for the granting of subsidies to the cantons by the confederation. There are countless private schools of the Froebelian type, Montessori, open-air schools, etc. There are (1934) 4362 cantonal elementary schools of various grades, with 1637 teachers, 471,708 pupils. In small municipalities the school is the most beautiful building in the country, and also serves as a municipal house.
The middle school, regulated entirely by cantonal legislation, is generally divided into two parts, lower, of a uniform non-humanistic character (653 cantonal schools, with 3000 teachers, 58,000 pupils) and higher, differentiating into classical high school, scientific high school, school of trade (85 high schools, 50 business schools, 611 teachers, 11,325 pupils: coeducation applies in all schools). The difference between the humanistic high school and the scientific one is attenuated for those coming from the latter by the possibility of replacing certain disciplines, and of being equal to those coming from the classical one with supplementary examinations. Upon leaving high school, the baccalaureate exam admits to university.
There are numerous universities, also cantonal, and of different entities. The oldest are Basel (1460), Lausanne (1537 academy, 1890 university), Geneva (1559 academy, 1873 university): they are specialized in some way: Lausanne in diplomatic sciences, Basel, with about twenty clinics and institutes, in medicine, etc., although, for example, Basel is equally known for its legal school and for its theological faculty. In Friborg there is the Catholic university, where various teachings are given in Latin. Then come Neuchâtel and Zurich – where next to the university we find the only federal educational institution, the Polytechnic (where F. De Sanctis taught between 1856 and 1860) and which each year has about 1500 students; in St. Gallen there is the commercial university. There are also numerous specialized professional schools (22 of which are agricultural and forestry) and those for the preparation of teachers, those of music, fine arts, arts and crafts. Among the private ones, the one for breast patients in Davos is noteworthy; there are many for the variously handicapped. A university institute for international studies operates in Geneva.