5 of Europe’s Best Destinations for Low-Cost PhD Study | Top Universities

5 of Europe’s Best Destinations for Low-Cost PhD Study

By Mathilde Frot

Updated October 15, 2021 Updated October 15, 2021

Keen to spare yourself the financial burden of hefty PhD tuition fees? Then you’ll be pleased to learn there are a number of countries where PhD tuition is both free and world-leading. As many students now choose to do, you could opt to pursue your studies free of charge, or relatively inexpensively, in Germany, France, Finland, Sweden or Norway at world-class establishments.

PhD study in Germany

Germany is well known for its strong academic standards, high standards of living and free tuition (regardless of nationality)! As many as 43 German universities, in fact, feature among the global top 750 in the QS World University Rankings® 2019, including Technische Universität München (61st), Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (62nd) and Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg (64th).  German cities featured in the QS Best Student Cities include Berlin, home to the currywurst museum and fleet of uber-cool algorithm startups, and Munich, famous for the jolly beer festival, Oktoberfest, it hosts every year.

PhD study in France

With 11 universities among the global top 300 in the QS World University Rankings, including Université PSL (ranked 50th in the world) and Ecole Polytechnique (65th). France offers low PhD tuition fees at its public universities. Although the fee may be higher in a Grande École, public universities in France will charge a nominal fee of approximately €380 (~US$440) a year. Top student cities in France include Lyon, Toulouse and of course Paris – which is consistently ranked in the top five of the QS Best Student Cities index thanks to its low tuition fees and high concentration of internationally recognized universities.

Read more about studying in France at graduate level here.

PhD study in Finland

Tuition fees are completely free for all PhD students in Finland, regardless of nationality. And Finnish capital Helsinki, ranked 75th in the QS Best Student Cities, is home to two of the world’s top 150 universities, the University of Helsinki and Aalto University. Also noteworthy are Finland’s wide, open spaces and incredible natural phenomena such as the eerie midnight sun and the gorgeous Aurora Borealis, which fires up the Finnish night sky about 10 to 20 nights a year.

PhD study in Sweden

The EU country with the highest percentage of renewable energy, Sweden has no less than 29 gorgeous national parks and 4,000 nature reserves. The progressive politics for which it is known are also reflected in its higher education system. Tuition is free for all students at doctoral level in Sweden, and there are quite a few scholarships available to cover living costs, via the Swedish Institute, for instance, or individual universities. Eight Swedish universities feature in the global top 350 in the QS World University Rankings, including Lund University, ranked 92nd in the world, and KTH Royal Institute of Technology at joint 104th.

PhD study in Norway


Concluding our look at affordable European study destinations for a PhD with another Nordic nation, tuition at public universities in Norway is free for all students, regardless of nationality. You will need to pay a small semester student union fee to cover things like exams and sports facilities, which is typically no more than NOK 300-600 (~US$36-72). Of course, as with all Nordic countries, living costs are still high, meaning you’ll likely want to find a scholarship to help. In terms of universities, there are four Norwegian universities in the QS World University Rankings, led by the University of Oslo at 135th.


For more PhD advice and inspiration, read our complete guide ‘How to Find and Fund a PhD’ – including information about types of PhD, fees and funding, and how to apply.

This article was originally published in August 2016. It was updated in August 2018.

This article was originally published in August 2018 . It was last updated in October 2021

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I'm originally French but I grew up in Casablanca, Kuala Lumpur and Geneva. When I'm not writing for QS, you'll usually find me sipping espresso(s) with a good paperback.

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