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HOW TO CHOOSE A PRIVATE SCHOOL IN SWITZERLAND?

BERTRAND BEAUTÉ, Business mir #16 - 2010-05 MAIL PRINT 
An increasing number of parents want to educate their children in Swiss international schoosl. There’s just one problem — the demand for student placement so drastically exceeds availability that schools are often full and an opening can be hard to find.
“The demand is skyrocketing!” exclaims Natacha Liechpi, Sales Director of Ryan Partners, a Lausanne-based international agency that helps Russian-speaking parents place children in Swiss schools. “More and more Russian parents are contacting me in order to find an opening for their children in a Swiss international school.” States Pedro Miranda, Administrative Assistant at the St George’s School in Montreux, echoing Ms. Liechpi’s observation. “Even though demand has decreased slightly with the financial crisis, it was extremely strong until the end of 2008.”
“Russians are primarily looking to place children in boarding schools, even starting at a very young age,” explains Tina Roessler, Director of the Bilingual School of Suisse Romande, a day school that admits children from age four and up. “We have many of requests of this kind..” But most Swiss international schools only board children starting at about age ten. At the prestigious Le Rosey school in Rolle, boarding is available from age 8 and at St. George’s School — which has 450 students, 10% of whom are Russian-speaking – students can board from age 11.
Despite these obstacles, applications are pouring in to such an extent that some schools have decided to set quotas on nationalities or linguistic regions. “Since the 1980s, we have limited the number of students from a single country or a group of neighbouring countries to 10% of the student body,” says Phillippe Gudin, director of Le Rosey. “We were the first to do this in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and many other schools have followed suit, because each passing decade has brought an influx of students from a particular region. In the 1980s, it was the Near East and Middle East whereas in the 1990s, it was the Far East. Today, it’s Russia and the former Soviet block countries. As a result of these changing circumstances and in order to maintain a balance of international students, Le Rosey has taken measures to prevent its student body from being over-run by one particular nationality or language.
Our vocation is to remain international – we currently have 55 nationalities represented on campus.”, explains Mr. Gaudin.
Another problem is that Swiss international schools are literally bursting at the seams. “The situation is quite complicated and international schools are completely full.”, notes Norbert Foerster, President of the Geneva Association for Private Schools (AGEP) and Director of the Insitut International de Lancy. “The demand remains very strong,” confirms Michaelene Stack, Director of the International School in Geneva — which currently educates 4,000 students from 96 different countries. “Starting next March, we will have 520 more openings on our La Châtaigneraie campus. But for the moment, we can only accept a new applicant if another student leaves our school.” As a result, waiting lists are getting longer and parents are encouraged to apply early if they want to secure a spot for their child. “For some grades, our waiting lists can reach up to thirty students,” reveals Marcel Rieder of the International School of Lausanne (ISL).
“To have a fighting chance to get a spot in pre-school or primary school, you need to apply between six months and a year before the start of the school year,” advises Foerster. In general, Russianspeaking parents who would like their children to go to school in Switzerland work through placement agencies. “Parents call me and tell me what they are looking for,” explains Natalie Liechpi from the Ryan Partners agency in Lausanne. “I offer every client personalised advice, and I look for the school that best suits their needs.”
Once a particular school has been chosen, parents come to visit the campus with their children. “This first visit allows parents to see what the school has to offer. It’s a very important step in establishing a sense of trust,” emphasises Pedro Miranda, from St. George’s School. “Then, if they are interested and we have a spot available, they pay for tuition and fees. Once the payment is made, we take care of all the administrative details for them, starting by obtaining a student visa and residence permit.”
It’s still no cakewalk for a Russianspeaking student to settle in to a Swiss school, because international bilingual schools teach either in English and/or French and/or German. This can be challenging if your child doesn’t speak any of these three languages. Some schools deal with the problem by testing students during the application process.
Michaelene Stack, Director of the International School in Geneva, is less concerned about the language barrier. “We’re used to accepting students who speak neither French nor English. A Russian-speaking teacher will accompany them for several weeks, until they master the language well enough to get by in standard classes.”
Going to school in Switzerland has its advantages – it can help international students obtain a Swiss passport. Article 31 of Swiss National Law states that foreign children under age 22 who have lived in Switzerland for a total of five years are eligible for Swiss citizenship – provided they have been living in the country for a year at the time they submit their request to the Swiss authorities.
SCHOOL NUMBER OF SUDENTS RUSSIAN-SPEAKING STUDENTS AGE RANGE BOARDING AND/OR DAY TUITION IN CHF
Ecole internationale de Genève 4,000 N/A 3–18 years Day 16,500–28,000
Le Rosey 400 N/A 8–18 years Boarding 80,000
St George’s School 450 45 3–18 years Day; boarding N/A
Moser 1,000 10 6–18 years Day 14,000–20,000
Institut International de Lancy 1,330 40–50 From 10 years Day 7,750–19,750
Ecole bilingue de Suisse Romande 30 2 4–10 years Day N/A
BERTRAND BEAUTÉ, Business mir #16 - 2010-05  MAIL PRINT 
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