Professional Degrees vs. Academic Degrees

June 28, 2019 •

4 min reading

Professional Degrees vs. Academic Degrees

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There are basically two streams of higher education. There are degree programmes that prepare the student for a particular profession (e.g. like nursing, accountancy, engineering or education) and there are academic degree programmes which are more general in nature and typically include courses in science, history, literature, language, mathematics, etc.

Deciding which is best for a young person depends on his/her career objectives. For those who already have an idea as to what sort of career they would like to pursue, a professional degree programme is probably a good choice. Also, it must be recognised that not everyone has the same skill set. For instance, those who are academically inclined may not be as successful in a professional environment as others who are less so and vice versa.

As well, some people are ‘late bloomers’, meaning that they may have limited success or interest in an academic environment at a young age, but become motivated and are able to complete a higher education qualification at a later stage –perhaps in their twenties. Unfortunately, many educational systems operate with pre-selection for the academic track at a young age, which means that if students don’t meet certain requirements in their early teens, the university track is closed off to them.

Switzerland’s parallel educational system

As the world’s most competitive economy, according to the World Economic Forum’s “The Global Competitiveness Report 2017–2018”, Switzerland has an exemplary educational system that offers multiple paths to a higher education. 

While young people in Switzerland pass through the selection process for the academic track at the middle school level (i.e. between 12 and 15 years of age), even if they don’t make it into an academic secondary school, they still have the possibility to complete a higher education later on.

In fact, Switzerland has three basic tracks of tertiary education, including:

1. Colleges of higher education

It teaches students the skills required to independently assume professional and management responsibilities in their field. The education and training programmes and post-diploma programmes are practically oriented and encourage the ability to think methodically and holistically, in particular. They also offer further qualifications for the analysis of tasks specific to their occupational field and for the practical application of acquired knowledge. The colleges of higher education offer federally recognised education and training programmes in the following fields: engineering; hotel, restaurant and catering, tourism and hospitality services; economics; agriculture and forestry; healthcare; social care and adult education and training; art and design; and traffic and transport;

2. Universities of applied sciences

It supplements academic education and training with professionally-oriented programmes and offer practically-oriented degree programmes which lead to professional qualifications. They award degrees at the bachelor and master level in various specialty areas. The remit of the universities of applied sciences includes teaching, applied research and development, services for third parties and cooperation with universities and research institutes in Switzerland and abroad. There are seven regional public universities of applied sciences and one private university of applied sciences (the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne). Usually, admission to a university of applied science requires a federal vocational baccalaureate, but admission with other qualifications is possible. 

3. Universities

They are the traditional academic institutions of higher learning and they include the ten cantonal universities and the two Federal Institutes of Technology (FIT) managed by the Swiss Confederation. As a rule, the admission to a university requires a completed Swiss secondary school diploma and those with other secondary school diplomas (e.g. from abroad) are generally required to take an entrance exam. The studies emphasise a scientific and theoretical approach. Doctoral or PhD degrees can only be awarded by a university.

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EHL SSTH’s unique offering

The EHL Swiss School of Tourism & Hospitality (EHL SSTH), located in Passugg, Switzerland, is a wholly owned unit of the prestigious Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne. Back in 2013, EHL SSTH became the first Swiss hotel school to have an English language professional hospitality management degree programme accredited by the Swiss Government. This unique qualification is part of Switzerland’s "dual-education" system which offers young people the choice of pursuing a professional certification instead of a university-level academic degree.

Swiss professional qualification versus a bachelor

The Swiss government has recognised the importance of international recognition for its professional degrees and has determined that their vocationally- based, Professional Education and Training Degree is equivalent to a bachelor, but is also different. Equivalent, because professional degree graduates have completed at least 5,400 credit hours, which is as much, if not more than bachelor degree graduates. Different, because the professional degree is based on vocational and personal competencies required for industry, and demands a lot of practical training, including a minimum amount of  internships, and so does not have the same amount of academic course hours as a bachelor degree. This means that professional degree graduates have received a very intensive training that makes them highly sought after by industry, but does not allow them an automatic entry into the academic world of a master’s programme.

However, Swiss Professional Degree graduates who would like to earn both a professional and an academic  qualification are eligible to enter the final three semesters of EHL SSTH’s parent organisation's Bachelor of Science (BSc) program, thereby achieving both the highest level of vocational training available, plus the EHL Bachelor of Science in International Hospitality Management.