The University of Geneva has long held a reputation as one of the most prestigious universities in Switzerland. As part of the University of Geneva’s Continuing Education programme, it now offers a number of postgraduate programmes, including one in fiscal law – the LL.M. Tax at the Law Faculty – thereby appealing to those looking to gain a foothold on the next step up the career ladder.
The course is primarily open to students who have already studied law, economics, or taxation of some kind, according to Professor Xavier Oberson, a law professor at the University of Geneva who heads up the programme.
The LL.M. Tax Law Faculty offers a part-time postgraduate law course over two years that comprises 15 modules (60 credits). The first module, taught over a two-week period, seeks to provide all students with a basic introduction to accountancy, finance, and corporate evaluation. The students are also introduced to financial instruments and corporate governance.
As part of the course, students learn about the Swiss fiscal system as well as other systems internationally. In order to expose them to a wide-range of opportunities, Oberson organizes invited speakers from a variety of fields. “We deliberately choose speakers from different backgrounds, including partners from the ‘Big 4’ accountancy firms, such as Ernst & Young and PwC, as well as lawyers working in the federal tax administration and in major law firms,’ he said.
Last year, the Swiss Federal Tax Administration (FTA) organized an outing to their office in Bern for students on the course. The trip was “very positive and constructive”, according to Oberson, who added that it allowed student to gain a better understanding of how the system works.
Other modules on the course include the intricacies of property transfer tax and taxation on dividends – especially concerning affiliated companies and double taxation. In addition, students cover VAT, fraud, and fiscal evasion, particularly where it comes to setting a legal precedent. The tax module also looks at case studies involving European Community taxation, which were tried at the European Court of Justice (ECJ). In later modules, topics such as corporate clean-up and liquidations come into play. The fiscal consequences of re-structuring an enterprise, which may include full or partial liquidation, are also discussed. Corporate M&A activity also features on the course, with students looking at how changeovers and restructurings can influence corporate financing. Moreover, they are taught about the processes which need to be undertaken to facilitate corporate changes, including due diligence, determining fair value, and putting together a contract.
Elsewhere on the course, modules include property investment, trusts, foundations, and philanthrophy as well as taxation on assets held, based on nationality and country of residence. Intercantonal fiscal law and penal law also form part of the course.
The lessons themselves are spread over 18 months to give students time during the last term to prepare for their final exams. Lessons primarily take place on Thursdays and Fridays at the University of Geneva so that students who wish to are able to work for the rest of the week. Lectures are available in French, English, and German. During the course, each student is expected to present two pieces of research for evaluation. In the second year of study, students are expected to write a 40-page study on a subject of their choice. It is necessary to have a good command of both French and English to complete the course.
While many of the students are Swiss, the course has also accepted students from France, Portugal, Italy, Spain, and Luxembourg, Oberson said. There are 18 students taking the existing course, which will finish at the end of this year, and about 25 students have already been accepted for the next course, which will start in January 2017. The course is now in its sixth year.
There are also other LL.M taxation courses in Switzerland, most notably in Lausanne and Zurich. Ultimately, the course prepares students to enter a number of fields, in particular as tax lawyers, accountants at the big accountancy firms, or in the law departments of multinational firms. Some students also go on to work for the federal government.
“Where they end up depends on their character,” Oberson said. “The majority of our students would probably prefer to work in a law firm or in one of the major accountancy companies.”
Interestingly, students come to the postgraduate programme at different stages in their careers. Many students are around 25 years old, according to Oberson, although some are seasoned professionals with 10 to 20 years work under their belts. “These are people looking to take the next step professionally and they bring a lot of interesting experience to the course. It’s also great for the younger students because it allows them to benefit from their insight and to see how careers can develop over time,” Oberson said.
For further information, refer to the LL.M Tax website: http://llm-tax.ch/
Article by Sara Seddon Kilbinger