Education in Switzerland is very diverse because the constitution of Switzerland delegates the authority for the school system to the cantons. There are both public and private schools, including many private international schools. The minimum age for primary school is about six years in all cantons, but most cantons provide a free "children's school" starting at four or five years old. Primary school continues until grade four or five, depending on the school. Traditionally, the first foreign language in school was always one of the other national languages, although recently (2000) English was introduced first in a few cantons.
At the end of primary school (or at the beginning of secondary school), pupils are separated according to their capacities in several (often three) sections. The fastest learners are taught advanced classes to be prepared for further studies and the matura, while students who assimilate a little bit more slowly receive an education more adapted to their needs.
The campus of the ETH Zürich. The institution is usually ranked the top university in continental Europe
There are 12 universities in Switzerland, ten of which are maintained at cantonal level and usually offer a range of non-technical subjects. The first university in Switzerland was founded in 1460 in Basel (with a faculty of medicine) and has a tradition of chemical and medical research in Switzerland. The biggest university in Switzerland is the University of Zurich with nearly 25,000 students. The two institutes sponsored by the federal government are the ETHZ in Zürich (founded 1855) and the EPFL in Lausanne (founded 1969 as such, formerly an institute associated with the University of Lausanne) which both have an excellent international reputation.[note 9]
In addition there are various Universities of Applied Sciences. In business and management studies, University of St. Gallen, (HSG) and International Institute for Management Development (IMD) are the leaders. Switzerland has the second highest rate of foreign students in tertiary education, after Australia.
Many Nobel prizes were awarded to Swiss scientists, for example to the world-famous physicist Albert Einstein in the field of physics who developed his theory of relativity while working in Bern. More recently Vladimir Prelog, Heinrich Rohrer, Richard Ernst, Edmond Fischer, Rolf Zinkernagel and Kurt Wüthrich received Nobel prizes in the sciences. In total, 113 Nobel Prize winners stand in relation to Switzerland and the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded 9 times to organisations residing in Switzerland.
The LHC tunnel. The CERN is the world's largest laboratory and also the birthplace of the World Wide Web
Geneva hosts the world's largest laboratory, the CERN, dedicated to particle physics research. Another important research center is the Paul Scherrer Institute. Notable inventions include the lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), the scanning tunneling microscope (Nobel prize) or the very popular Velcro. Some technologies enabled the exploration of new worlds such as the pressurized balloon of Auguste Piccard and the Bathyscaphe which permitted Jacques Piccard to reach the deepest point of the world's oceans.
Switzerland Space Agency, the Swiss Space Office, has been involved in various space technologies and programs. In addition it was one of the 10 founders of the European Space Agency in 1975 and is the seventh largest contributor to the ESA budget. In the private sector, several companies are implicated in the space industry such as Oerlikon Space or Maxon Motors who provide spacecraft structures.
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