Until recently, the notion of gaining entry to European universities in the space of just a year seemed completely fantastic. Today in the heart of Zurich, two minutes from the Bank of Zurichsee, at the Academic Gateway school, you can get the Matura certificate that allows you to apply to the leading universities in Europe and Switzerland. Thomas Muller, Director at Academic Gateway, talked to SHM on how the school operates.
– Mr. Fuchs, where did the idea for the Academic Gateway come from? Was it from your personal experience or from the demand for this kind of school on the Swiss market?
– You see, there’s only one way for students to gain unrestricted access to both Swiss and European universities, and that is through the Matura, which is the name of the final diploma a student is awarded when he/she successfully finishes Gymnasium and passes the final exams. Only 20% of all students enroll in Gymnasium, because Gymnasium accepts only the very best students and selects them at a very young age (12-13 or 15-16) by extensive testing. For the other 80% of students, there’s the path of Sekundarstufe + Berufslehre (apprenticeship), which is a dual system that Switzerland is famous for. Both the Sekundarstufe and the apprenticeship take up to 3 years each and enable the student to work and earn after the apprenticeship is successfully completed (at the age of 18-19). But, and this is the crux of our educational system, it’s very difficult for them and for many other young people to find their way back into an academic environment.
Based on a case study that was conducted prior to the opening of this school, it was evident that many people would prefer a fast-track version of the Swiss gymnasium. It was both the board’s experience and the metric data that gave them the confidence to continue with this project.
– Who can become a student at Academic Gateway?
– Everyone who is at least 18 years old at the time of their final exam is allowed onto our courses. However, we have strict requirements regarding language levels.
B1 in foreign languages, such as English and French or Italian, is required. C1 in German, which is the official exam language, is also required. All subjects, except languages, are taught in German. Additional language skills, such as Russian, Spanish, Latin or Greek, are immensely advantageous to students because they have the option of additionally selecting one of those languages as part of their curriculum.
– After just a year in the School, students receive a Matura certificate. Which universities are available to them after that?
– There are absolutely no restrictions in choosing one of the many university courses offered by both the Swiss and the European (Bologna system) tertiary education systems. After attending our courses and obtaining the Matura, our students embark upon various career paths, from economics to law, edicine, sciences, arts or engineering. Our proximity to some of the world’s finest institutions, such as ETH or UZH, allow our students to jump right into their preferred university courses.
– What influenced the formation of the School’s curriculum?
– As our name indicates, it is our primary focus to prepare students in a way that enables them to follow an academic path which will offer them greater opportunities in their career and their life. Therefore, our curriculum is focused solely on subjects and skills that increase the chances of a student passing the final exams. At its core, Academic Gateway is a preparation centre, and our curriculum’s anchor-points are derived solely from federal exam requirements.
What is the difference between the Matura and a bachelor’s degree? The term “Matura” is both the name of the Gymnasium’s final exam and the diploma the student receives after passing it. It is a prerequisite for starting a Bachelor’s degree course at a university. That means: no Matura, no university access.
– A side from knowledge of languages, what might be useful for students whoenroll in your school?
– Strong math skills in algebra (functions & visualization) and geometry can be very useful in the European educational system in general, and likewise in our school. It’s good to have basic knowledge of physics, chemistry and biology, and basic knowledge of European history and geography.
– Do you help your foreign students with choosing a university?
– Yes, sure – but we also have other forms of consulting. We can help with organizing accommodation, getting visas, bringing the parents along with the students…
– The parents?
– Yes, these are parents that invest in their children’s education in Europe, and they also can be taken care of. Looking for accommodation, opening bank accounts, even starting a business… that’s why we have a special department for this kind of help.
– What formal status does the School have? Is it certified by the Swiss Educational Department?
– In Switzerland, public schools undergo scrutiny by the state, whereas private schools are allowed to put together curriculi that seem the best fit for their requirements (for example, Fast Track programmes). The formal status of Academic Gateway is that of a private school.
– In a short period of time, Academic Gateway has become a very famous and successful educational institution. What is the key to your success?
– I think several factors are involved here. First, our school was created for Swiss students and they are still the majority of our students – and you know that Swiss people are very demanding when it comes to quality of education. All our teachers meet the highest demands regarding educational requirements: they all have at least a Master’s Degree. However, the key factor is that the interests of our students are our main priority. We want them to get the results they desire.