More Swiss universities announce Covid certificate requirement

The EPFL campus as seen during the first shutdown in April 2020 Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

Several more Swiss universities have announced that they will be requiring Covid certificates for on-site lectures when they re-open after the summer break.

This content was published on September 13, 2021 - 07:44

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) and the universities of Lausanne (UNIL), Zurich and Neuchâtel were the first ones to do so. They have now been joined by the universities of St Gallen, Bern, Basel (from November 1), Lucerne, Fribourg and Geneva, and the top-ranked Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich).

From autumn, face-to-face teaching is fully allowed - under hygiene measures - on Swiss campuses, following 18 months of shutdowns and distance learning. But until now it has not been clear which role the Covid certificate could play.

On Wednesday September 8 the Swiss government decided to extend the use of the Covid certificates, which show if a person is vaccinated, tested or recovered, to indoor public spaces such as restaurants, culture events and leisure activities from September 13. It also said that cantons or universities may introduce a certificate requirement for teaching at Bachelor and Master level. 

‘Return to university life’

EPFL confirmed a report on Thursday September 9 that had appeared in that the certificate would be applied to all classes and exercises from September 21, when the autumn semester starts.

“The Covid certificate will therefore give students the opportunity to attend face-to-face classes with a better health guarantee. It will also allow us to use our infrastructure to its full capacity. For our students, this allows a real return to university life,” spokesperson Corinne Feuz said in an email statement.

A hybrid approach – online and on-site – would be offered in all cases. “Students who don’t have certificates will therefore not be excluded from teaching,” a statement said. Mask wearing would remain highly recommended when seated or moving around, added EPFL.

Also on Thursday afternoon, UNIL also confirmed to SWI that it would introduce the Covid certificate “for lessons at bachelor and master level from Tuesday September 21”.

The same obligation will apply for events, including welcome week, as well as for access to catering, sports and library facilities from September 13, an information email to the university community said. More details would come later, it added.

The University of Neuchâtel also told its students later the same day that the certificate would be required. Streaming of lectures for those who could not attend in person will be available, a spokesman said.

On Friday September 10 the University of Zurich also announced that Covid Certificates would be required for on-site classes from September 20. Other university announcements also emerged later on Friday.

But the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI) in Italian-speaking Ticino has already saidExternal link that it would not introduce the certificate for undergraduate and graduate levels (Bachelors and Masters), but it would apply for other activities such as indoor events. It said the decision had been taken in accordance with the cantonal authorities.


Meanwhile, sector’s umbrella body swissuniversities said on Friday September 10 that its Board recommended in principle the introduction of the covid certificate. 

"It remains the goal of universities to offer students and university staff the best possible structures for teaching and research, depending on the circumstances," it said. 

“For this reason, the swissuniversities Board recommends that universities introduce a covid certificate requirement as a matter of principle for all activities that take place within the framework of the university. In doing so, they shall take local conditions into account and a transitional period may be established.”

It added that the covid certificate obligation was to be carried out “appropriately and proportionately, for example with random checks”.

Students react

For its part, the Swiss Student UnionExternal link has called onExternal link the Swiss Conference of Higher Education Institutions and swissuniversities to adopt a “cautious application of the Covid-19 certificate” at universities and to always ensure a digital alternative.

Otherwise, students who were neither recovered, vaccinated or who could not afford regular testing (from October when testing costs are no longer covered by the government) would be denied “access to education or self-determination in relation to vaccination”, it said in a statement issued on Wednesday night after the government's certificate announcement.

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