While university fees continue to rise in many parts of the world, some of you might be thinking that getting a recognized degree qualification, either in your home country or abroad, is simply impossible without having a four- or five-figure budget at your disposal.
You’ll be pleased to hear that this isn’t necessarily the case! There are many countries worldwide where students are able to study abroad for free or for a very affordable amount; you just need to know where to look.
Below you’ll find a selection of countries that offer low-cost or free tuition, with details on eligibility and what current (low) university fees you can expect. To find internationally renowned universities in these countries, visit the QS World University Rankings® 2016-2017.
Study in Germany for free
Interest in studying abroad in Germany just seems to keep on growing. This is largely due to the fact that there are no undergraduate tuition fees at public universities in Germany, and this applies to both German students and internationals, regardless of nationality. Just a small nominal university fee is charged, of around €150-250 (~US$160-265) to cover administration costs.
These low study costs, combined with Germany’s strong economy and excellent higher education system, makes the prospect of undertaking study in Germany for free extremely appealing for both students and their parents worldwide. Indeed, in a recent HSBC report on ‘The Value of Education’, Germany is among the top five countries in the world in terms of perceived quality of education among surveyed parents. More than 40 German universities are featured among the world’s leaders in the QS World University Rankings – again, beaten only by the US and UK – with the highest place taken by Technische Universität München.
There are, however, signs that studying in Germany for free will not be possible for much longer. The state of Baden-Württemberg in south-west Germany recently announced plans to reintroduce tuition fees for non-EU students from autumn 2017, meaning non-EU students will be required to pay fees of around €1,500 (~US$1,600) per semester to study at universities in the state, such as Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg.
If you’re successful in finding a university at which to study in Germany for free, you will of course still need to budget for living costs. If you need a German student visa, you’ll need to prove you have around €8,700 (~US$9,230) per year for living expenses.
For more information on how to study in Germany for free, see the following articles:
- How Much Does it Cost to Study in Germany?
- How to Apply For a PhD In Germany
- Scholarships to Study in Germany
- Study in Germany: Frequently Asked Questions
- Study in Germany in English
- Top Universities in Germany 2016-2017
Study in France for free (or at low cost)
France may not be quite as widely known as Germany for affordable higher education. But international students may be surprised to hear that they can also study in France for free (or, at a very low cost), regardless of their nationality.
Although technically university fees do exist at public universities in France, they’re just a fraction of those charged in most countries, amounting to just €184 (~US$195) per year at undergraduate level to cover course administration. Additional charges can bring this price up, particularly for more specialized programs such as medicine and engineering, but not dramatically. If you’re looking to study at a leading grande école, however, expect fees to vary widely.
As is the case in Germany, the majority of programs offering the chance to study in France for free are taught in the native language. However, there are a growing number of opportunities to study in English, particularly at graduate level. Alternatively, you can also attend a preparatory school to perfect your French skills before beginning your degree, but this you’ll have to pay for.
Living costs in France are also relatively affordable, amounting to around €9,600 (~US$10,180) per year, though you should expect to pay more if you choose to live in capital city Paris. According to Numbeo, cross-channel rival London eclipses Paris in all aspects of expense, with consumer prices marked 25% higher and rental prices a whopping 69% higher than in Paris. The French capital’s comparative affordability, combined with a huge selection of internationally ranked universities, means it continues to top the QS Best Student Cities index.
Find out more:
- Scholarships to Study Abroad in the World’s Best Student Cities
- Scholarships to Study in Europe
- 9 of the Best Places to Study Abroad in Europe
- Top 10 Universities in Paris
- Top Universities in France
Study in the Nordic countries for free
Known for their high quality of life, stunning nature and liberal politics, Northern European nations (known as the Nordic countries) also boast some of the strongest higher education systems in the world. Nordic nations Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden all offer opportunities to study free or at low cost:
In Norway, university study is available free of charge to all students, regardless of study level or nationality. The majority of undergraduate programs are taught only in Norwegian, and international students need to demonstrate proof of proficiency in Norwegian in order to study at this level. At master’s and PhD level, English language programs are far more common and free tuition still applies.
Denmark and Sweden only extend their free higher education perks to students from within the EU/EEA and Switzerland, meaning that students from outside these regions must pay tuition fees for bachelor’s and master’s programs. PhD programs in both countries are fully funded, offering exceptional PhD candidates the chance to gain their degree without paying fees, and earn a salary. Finland will soon join them in charging tuition fees to non-EU students starting from autumn 2017, which will be a minimum of €1,500 (~US$1,600) per year.
In both Denmark and Sweden, international fees at bachelor and master levels varies. In Denmark, university fees range from between DKK 45,000 and DKK 120,000 (~US$6,420-17,115) annually, while in Sweden they fall between SEK 80,000 and SEK 140,000 (~US$8,730-15,270).
In Iceland, there are no tuition fees charged at the country’s four public universities, with only a registration fee of around €400 a year (~US$425).
But what about living costs? Well, this is the catch, as the costs of living in Northern Europe are among some of the highest in the whole of Europe. This is largely due to the healthy economy of the region overall and the strength of the Nordic currencies, so paying more for living when the streets are clean and the people are happy perhaps isn’t so bad! Four Nordic capitals have been ranked among the world’s top student cities: Copenhagen, Helsinki, Oslo and Stockholm.
Find out more:
- Denmark Rated the Third Best Place to Study in Europe
- International Scholarships for Europe’s Nordic Countries
- Student Satisfaction: Finland Best Place to Study in Europe
- Studying in Sweden: Student Satisfaction Survey Results
Other places to study in Europe for free (or at low cost)
What about other places to study in Europe for free or at a low cost? There are a number of Europe countries which offer affordable or free universities, without any need to sacrifice on quality. See below for more examples.
Another country where students can study in Europe for free (or at a very low cost) is Austria. EU/EEA students enjoy the same rights as Austrians when it comes to the cost of higher education, and can study for up to two semesters for free at any degree level. After this time, students pay a fee of just €363 (~US$385) per semester. International students from outside of the EU/EEA should expect slightly higher fees of around €726 (~US$770) per semester. Living costs will set all students back approximately between €10,200-12,000 (~US$10,820-12,730) a year. Vienna, Austria’s capital city, is ranked 16th in the QS Best Student Cities 2016.
There are two main language communities in Belgium, each with their own stance on university fees. However, EU students will pay a maximum of only €835 (~US$890) a year. And while it’s just EU students who get the major benefits of being able to study in Europe for free, fees are still very affordable for international students, ranging from €890 to a maximum of €4,175 (~US$940-4,430) per year. You can live in Belgium with a budget of around €11,400 (~US$12,100) a year. Brussels, the capital city, was ranked 41st in this year’s QS Best Student Cities.
Students who speak Czech are able to study abroad for free in the Czech Republic at any public university. Students who wish to study in English can also study fairly cheaply, at around CZK 108,334 (~US$4,260) per year. Living costs are more affordable than in many countries in Western Europe, at around CRK 106,900-229,070 (~US$4,200-9000) per year. The Czech capital city, Prague, is ranked joint 39th in the QS Best Student Cities.
All students from within the EU/EEA are able to study abroad for free in Greece at public universities and colleges, with the exception of some master’s programs. And if this doesn’t sound like enough, you could also get your course textbooks for free! International students from outside of the EU are also eligible for low-cost higher education, at approximately €1,500 (~US$1,600) per year. Greece offers one of the lowest costs of living in the European Union.
Although private universities in Italy can be known to charge fairly high tuition fees, public universities in Italy are markedly cheaper, charging between €850 and €1,000 (~US$900-1,060) per year for undergraduate programs. EU students are eligible for the same funding opportunities as Italian students, including loans, grants, scholarships and fee waivers. Living costs in Italy are also not as high as you might expect, at around €12,000-18,000 (~US$12,760- 19,145) per year. Milan is ranked 38th in the most recent QS Best Student Cities, while capital city Rome is joint 61st.
With the same education rights as Spanish students, EU students are not required to pay high education fees. International students, meanwhile, are able to study in Spain for between €680 and €1,400 (~US$720-1,500) per year at public institutions. Fees are charged on a per-credit basis and can be higher at graduate level. To live in Spain you should expect to spend between €10,800 and €13,200 (~US$11,500-14,050) a year in living costs. Madrid and Barcelona and are both featured in the QS Best Student Cities 2016, at 22nd and 30th respectively.
Other places to study abroad for free (or at low cost)
While Argentinian students all enjoy access to free universities, international students should expect to pay a small, nominal fee to enroll at public universities in the country. Private institutions in Argentina, on the other hand, can charge upwards US$5,000 a year. In the QS Best Student Cities 2016, Argentinian capital Buenos Aires is 32nd.
In India, international students will typically pay tuition fees of no higher than US$7,300 a year, though private university and graduate fees tend to be more expensive. Living costs in India are, for most students, likely to be very appealing – according to Numbeo, consumer prices are 187% cheaper than in the UK, while rental prices are as much as 373% cheaper. Overall, you should be able to live comfortably on as little as US$5,000 a year.
Tuition fees in Taiwan offer great value, with the nation’s top universities offering affordable programs. For example, National Taiwan University (NTU), the nation’s leading university at joint 68th in the QS World University Rankings 2016-2017, last year charged undergraduate students just TW$100,920-124,200 (~US$3,175-3,900) per year. In the QS Best Student Cities 2016, Taipei was ranked 23rd in the world and the fifth most affordable city for students.
This article was originally published in March 2015. It was updated in December 2016.
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