Swiss higher education institutions, which host many thousands of people on their campuses every day, were hit particularly hard by the coronavirus crisis. How they responded to this unprecedented situation depended not only on the federal and cantonal requirements, but also on the institutions’ size, their degree of centralisation, and their available capacities.
All of the higher education institutions started the 2021 spring semester in the same way they had finished the autumn semester in 2020: almost all lessons were held online, with some exceptions for areas or subjects in which infrastructure or interaction are essential. Following the Federal Council’s decision on 14 April 2021 to ease restrictions, most of the institutions changed their strategies and took steps to bring back face-to-face teaching on campus. However, the measures imposed by the Federal Council (maximum of 50 people indoors, social distancing, room use limited to one third of capacity) proved to be very restrictive, especially for smaller institutions that could offer their students little in the way of infrastructural support. At the start of the 2021 autumn semester, the institutions were able to remove some of the restrictions and, due to the introduction of compulsory COVID certificates, could also start holding face-to-face lessons again in many places. Thanks to various online solutions, which in particular included recordings and distance learning, most higher education institutions made it possible for students without a valid COVID certificate to attend lessons as well.
The majority of exams in the 2021 winter and summer sessions were held online.
To ensure the quality of the qualifications being awarded, exemptions granted for past sessions were not extended in many cases. Fails were therefore assessed as such again.
Numerous higher education institutions came up with new measures to help students cushion the financial impact of the crisis (emergency aid, solidarity fund, revised rules for loans and scholarships, etc.) or enhanced existing measures. They also introduced or stepped up various mental health measures for students (coaching sessions, consultations with specialists, workshops, online sports programmes, etc.).
It should also be mentioned that, like in 2020, the higher education institutions were again heavily involved in coronavirus research projects.