Switzerland is a small country located in the heart of Western Europe, and sharing borders with neighboring Germany, Austria, the Principality of Liechtenstein, Italy and France. There are now approximately 7.7 million people living in Switzerland, speaking four official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. A mountainous landscape: 60% of the Swiss territory is occupied by the Alps, a great mountain range stretching circa one thousand kilometers from Austria to France, that offer more than 80 peaks above 4000 meters. A prosperous economy: nowadays Switzerland enjoys the most competitive economies in the world (1st on the WEF Global Competitiveness Report 2011-2012), which relies mainly on the third sector. Large multinational corporations such as Nestlé, Novartis and ABB have their headquarters in Switzerland. High-quality performance and well-trained, reliable employees, as well as the concentration of high-quality niche products are at the heart of the Swiss economy. The key areas for Swiss exports are high-technology in general including pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, micro and nanotechnology, environmental technologies, as well as finance, design, luxury and hospitality. Environment and quality of life: a well-preserved environment easily accessible by public transport, safe cities, and excellent infrastructures make living in Switzerland very pleasant, and explain why the Global Ranking of Cities with a High Quality of Life ranks three Swiss cities among the top ten (Mercer's 2011 Quality of Living Survey).
Switzerland offers a very dynamic, conducive and competitive education and research landscape, as testified by 27 Nobel Prize winners from 1901 to 2002. The first Swiss University was founded in 1460 in Basel and today the country offers outstanding higher education in the Universities and Institutes of Technology, in the more professionally-oriented University of applied sciences and in the University of teaching education. There are also a few more University level institutions that are considered public institutions of higher education.
High diversity of cultures and languages, open access to students, very low student fees, highly international student cohorts and staff, as well as access to international networks and programs and tight links to academic research and industry, are the major strengths of the Swiss Higher Education System.