The Great Scramble for Gymnasium Places in Zürich

The scramble for Gymnasium places in Zürich

Zürich is a popular place to work and live. As a consequence, the city and canton have witnessed steady population growth over the last 10 years. Much of this population growth is coming from globally mobile talent. They are attracted by the many international banks, multinational companies and renowned research hubs in the region. An increasing number of this workforce is coming with family in tow. Unlike former expat assignees, these families are often eager to integrate and to give the local school system a go.
Or at least, until they come up against the Gymnasium entrance bottleneck.

How to scare away top talent

Zurich is in the enviable position of attracting a top-skilled population that is committed to their children’s integration and education. You would think that Zürich would do everything to seize this great opportunity to nurture homegrown talent. Yet, this is not what is happening. Instead, the cantonal education policies are scaring away the very talent that the city is hoping to attract in the first place.

The big hurdle

The main reason is the excessive entry hurdle for higher academic education. In a city where over 50% of the adult population is in possession of a university degree, access restrictions to academic higher education mean that every year a mere 15% of all 12 year olds in the canton are able to enter the academic Gymnasium school.

Whilst Zürich is rightly arguing that without restrictions, too many children would be pushed into Gymnasium, a (hidden) quota of 15% is hardly representative of the overall demographic composition. Also, the entry exam format poses an even bigger obstacle for the academic and motivated offspring of these international families. Non-native German students might get top grades at their local primary school but often lack academic writing skills necessary to write long-winded ‘Betrachtungen’.

Who is losing out?

International parents, who would prefer their high performing children to stay in the local system often see no other alternative than to look for private alternatives or to go back to their home country to allow their children to access higher education. This seems like an enormous waste of homegrown talent and in the context of a worldwide scarcity of top talent, this policy might be called outright foolish.

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