Education, Research and Innovation in Switzerland

The following timeline shows the development of education, research and innovation in Switzerland from the Confederation’s perspective, offering insight into how the current system came into being.

Disclaimer;xNLx;This chronology lists the most important milestones in Swiss research and innovation from a federal perspective. It is not exhaustive and will be updated periodically.;xNLx;;xNLx;If you have any comments, corrections or additions to this chronology, please let us know by contacting us at

1460-04-04 00:00:00

The University of Basel, Switzerland’s oldest university, is founded

The University of Geneva was founded in 1559. The remaining Swiss universities were established much later, in the 19th and 20th centuries. They followed the ideas of Wilhelm von Humboldt from their inception.

1500-01-01 11:32:47

The age of natural scientists and universal scholars

Scientific research in Switzerland began in the 16th century, mainly in the fields of natural science and general scholarship, with Paracelsus, Leonhard Euler and Albrecht von Haller as some of the more well-known names. For the period between 1500 and 1800, there is evidence that nearly 190 science scholars in Switzerland; over 70% of these were active in the 18th century. Photo: ETH Zurich Image Archive,, Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz,

1815-01-01 00:23:48

The Swiss Natural Science Society (‘Societé Helvétique des Sciences Naturelles’) is founded

This society was the precursor of the Swiss Academy of Sciences (SCNAT, since 1988). From the mid-20th century, several sister societies were founded: the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences (SAMS, 1943), the Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences (SAHS, 1946) and the Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences (SATW, 1981). These four academies joined forces in 2006, to form the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences. Photo:

1848-01-31 00:00:00

The federal state is founded

When the federal state was founded in 1848, the first Federal Constitution came into force. This stated that the cantons were responsible for organising general schooling in Switzerland and were required to ensure ‘sufficient primary education’. The Confederation took on responsibility for vocational education and training and for parts of tertiary education. Under Article 22 of the 1848 Constitution, the Confederation was given the authority to found a federal university.

1855-01-01 13:32:46

The ETH Zurich is founded

The Federal Polytechnic School of Zurich, opened in 1855 and upgraded to the status of Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in 1911, was founded in response to two main factors: the creation of the Swiss federal state in 1848 and the rapidly growing need – in the wake of industrialisation – for technical and scientific education at university level. Original proposals to found a federal university were resisted by the cantons and so came to nothing; however, a federal polytechnic based in Zurich was established.

1874-01-01 17:04:44

Primary education is made compulsory

The Federal Constitution was revised in 1874, introducing compulsory primary education. The minimum schooling required by the cantonal school laws and curricula could take place legally either at a public school, private school or at home. The cantons could decide whether schools could be set up by private sponsors alongside public institutions. ‘State run’ meant that school inspections were conducted by the communal and cantonal authorities.

1888-01-01 14:50:42

The Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property is founded

This institute, headquartered in Bern, is responsible for all matters relating to intellectual property in Switzerland. In 1996 it became an organisation incorporated under public law. Photo: IPI

1897-01-01 02:06:27

The Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) is founded

In 1897, the cantonal education directors, who had hitherto met on an ad hoc basis, consolidated their meetings into a permanent and structured conference. The EDK became a platform for sharing opinions and experiences in education policy, for joint decisions and undertakings, and dialogue with the federal government. Today it comprises the representatives of Switzerland’s 26 cantonal government responsible for education, culture and sport. Its current legal basis is the School Coordination Agreement of 1970, which was created because of the increasing need for greater coordination in education policy in the 1960s. Photo: EDK

1906-01-01 00:00:00

First federal ordinance on the baccalaureate issued

Following the foundation of the Federal Baccalaureate Commission in 1891, in 1906 the first federal ordinance on the baccalaureate was issued. After several years of consultation, in 1925 the Academic Baccalaureate Recognition Ordinance was issued, offering three different types of baccalaureate: Types A (Classics-Humanities with Latin and Greek), B (Classics-Humanities with Latin and English) and C (Mathematics-Natural Sciences). When revised in 1972, the Ordinance also officially recognised Types D (Modern Languages) and E (Economic Sciences).

1909-01-01 14:50:42

First Swiss Nobel Laureate: Emil Theodor Kocher, Professor of Surgery at the University of Bern

Twenty-three Swiss scientists have received Nobel Prizes in Science (Physics, Chemistry and Medicine) to date (2019). Switzerland has also received several Nobel Prizes for Literature and for Peace.

Education, Research and Innovation in Switzerland

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