Switzerland – VSS-UNES-USU – Swiss Student Union
Address: Monbijoustrasse 30, 3011 Bern, Switzerland
Phone: +41-31-382 11 71
Since 1920, VSS-UNES-USU has been representing the interests of students in Switzerland. It coordinates the requests of its members and cooperates with national and international organisations. The most important policy areas are related to democratisation and equalisation.
VSS – Verband der Schweizer Studierendenschaften (German)
UNES – Union des Etudiant-e-s de Suisse (French)
USU – Unione Svizzera degli Universitari (Italian)
VSS-UNES-USU was founded on 19 June 1920 in Zurich. Local student unions from the universities of Basel, Geneva, Neuchâtel, Zurich, St. Gallen, the ETH Zurich, the Union of Students in Ticino and some students from Berne then decided that they needed a national umbrella organisation. The first operational decades of VSS-UNES-USU were characterised by international cooperation. Between the two wars, but mainly after 1945, VSS-UNES-USU established contacts with many student unions, especially in Europe. For the purpose of enhancing solidarity among students, VSS-UNES-USU strived for different kinds of international cooperation. It was part of the International Union of Students (IUS), the International Student Conference (ISC), the European umbrella organisation ESIB and its successor ESU. As a consequence of these extensive travel activities, a cooperative for students’ travel was founded in 1962 (Genossenschaft Schweizerische Studentenreisedienst (SSR), later taken-over by STA Travel). The avail of the selling was brought into the new foundation for solidarity in tourism (Stiftung für Solidarität im Tourismus (SST)).
In 1960, the main office of VSS-UNES-USU was transferred to Berne in order to accomplish the desire of a better coordination between the French and the German-speaking parts of Switzerland. In Zurich, VSS-UNES-USU and the student unions of the University of Zurich and the ETH Zurich established the newspaper ‘das konzept’. Its publisher later became the provider of the weekly newspaper ‘WOZ’. In 1967, for the first time, a woman was elected for the Executive Committee of VSS-UNES-USU. In the following years, gender equality and the advancement of women became more and more important within the union.
In the late 60s, the activities of students in Switzerland had an impact on domestic politics. The law on the promotion of higher education institutes provided two seats for VSS-UNES-USU in the Conference of Swiss Higher Education Institutes (SHK, Schweizerische Hochschulkonferenz) as well as one seat in the Conference of Grants (IKSK, Stipendienkonferenz). In 1970, VSS-UNES-USU won the referendum against a new law concerning the ETHs. In 1972, the first popular initiative about grants could be submitted. These occurrences raised public awareness of and interest in the activities of the student unions in Switzerland. As a consequence, with diverse measures, their scope of action, their autonomy and sphere of influence was permanently weakened.
In 1973, the student union of Basel was abrogated, and the one in Berne was deprived of financial means. In 1978, the student union in Zurich was abrogated as well. Not until the 90s the student associations were able to reconstruct themselves. VSS-UNES-USU then again played an active role in national higher education politics.
As of 2000, the strategic focus of VSS-UNES-USU shifted from international cooperation to national higher education politics. Because of the Bologna Process and simultaneous reforms in the higher education area in Switzerland, the living conditions of students were significantly changed. That implied new topics for VSS-UNES-USU: the social dimension and the implementation of Bologna. As of 2008, VSS-UNES-USU represents student unions from all three types of higher education institutions in Switzerland. In 2010, VSS-UNES-USU launched another popular initiative on the grant system, which was submitted successfully in January 2012.
In 2011, a new law on the promotion and coordination of higher education institutes in Switzerland was approved by the parliament. VSS-UNES-USU was the only student representative which played an active role in the development of this law.
Mission and vision
The National Union of Students of Switzerland VSS-UNES-USU represents student associations of universities, universities of applied sciences, pedagogical universities and Swiss federal institutes of technology on a national level. As the national representative body, VSS-UNES-USU is a member of ESU, the European Students‘ Union. The office of VSS-UNES-USU is located in Bern. The languages used by VSS-UNES-USU are mainly German and French, partially also Italian and English.
The purpose of VSS-UNES-USU is to defend the material and ideal interests of students on a national and international level. It therefore collaborates with all institutions, organisations and organs that are important for the higher education sector. VSS-UNES-USU is independent of political parties, follows a strict non-discriminatory policy and fosters the equality of women and men. VSS-UNES-USU considers it to be important to respect the independence of its members and to support common activities as well as individual activities. VSS-UNES-USU also has associated members. These associations represent important regional or subject-specific interests of students, such as the Erasmus Student Network (ESN).
VSS-UNES-USU’s political work is supported by the activities of four commissions that meet once a month. These commissions treat the following topics: commission for international issues and solidarity (SOLIC), commission for higher education politics (HoPoKo), commission for equality (CodEg) and commission for social politics (SoKo). Policies and strategies are decided upon at least twice a year by the assembly of delegates. In between those assemblies, decisions are taken by the small legislative organ – the Council of Sections – in which all members are represented.
The external representation of VSS-UNES-USU is in the responsibility of the Executive Committee (EC). The EC is an organ of seven students who all have a profound interest and experience in student representation. The activities and work of the EC is supported by the General Secretariat. It is composed of two people who focus on the operative and administrative affairs within the union.