The countries offering students free (or somewhat affordable) university education

Even where courses are not completely free, they're often markedly cheaper than those at UK universities

Amy Gibbons
Monday 05 December 2016 18:39 GMT
Baroque library hall of the former Jesuit College in the Old Town of Prague
Baroque library hall of the former Jesuit College in the Old Town of Prague

With tuition fees on the rise once again next year, many are weighing up the cost benefits of higher education and wondering whether university – and all the opportunities it affords us – is truly worth the debt.

Students in England said to leave university with some of the highest levels of debt in the world, so it’s no wonder many students will consider skipping further education altogether in favour of following alternative routes into work.

But before you write university off completely, it might be worth remembering that the UK is just one option for British students seeking a top quality education.

At the moment, UK students have the right to study abroad in any EU member state for the same price as residents. It’s also possible to spend a year out as part of an Erasmus exchange programme for little to no extra cost.

While the future of this system remains uncertain following Brexit, it’s worth noting that a number of European (and some international) universities still offer courses for free, or very cheaply – especially compared to the prices we’re used to in the UK. Here are some to consider:


Since 2014, Germany has been a no-fee zone for students regardless of where they’re from. Sadly, this is soon to change - a recent ruling by the German government states that non-EU students must pay fees of €1,500 (£1,256) per semester at some south-western universities from Autumn 2017.

This means Brits are due to see a hike in costs from next year. Nonetheless, courses are far cheaper than in the UK – and Germany offers some world class institutions, and a number of courses taught in English.

Top QS ranked public universities: Technical University of Munich; Ludwig-Maximilliant-Universität; Ruprecht-Karls-Universitaet Heidelberg

Courses in English: Yes


While certainly not all education in France is free of cost, (we’d recommend avoiding the Grandes écoles on a budget) fees are generally considerably less than for UK institutions, and living costs in the French capital also work out far cheaper than London, according to comparison site Numbeo.

There are some admin fees to be aware of, but these rarely exceed €180 (£150) per year. It’s worth noting that specialised programmes are more expensive, and you’ll have to do some hunting around for a course taught in English – although that’s not to say the option isn’t readily available.

Top QS ranked public universities: Ecole Polytechnique; Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC); CentraleSupélec

Courses in English: Yes, but limited

Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland

As long as you’re proficient in Norwegian, you’ll be welcome to study in one of the four Nordic nations offering free education to external students. If not, you’ll be pleased to know EU students are also entitled to free higher education in Denmark and Sweden, and in Finland you won’t pay a penny for your study wherever you come from.

That is, until August 2017, as much like Germany, it was recently announced international students will be required to pay a minimum of €1,500 (£1,265) per year for a Finnish education. This looks to be bad news for students hoping to transfer from the UK, as we’re yet to know the effect Brexit will have on EU/international study costs.

Noted for their liberal politics and high quality of life, Nordic countries are popular with students unphased by the steep living costs, and last year saw Copenhagen, Hensinki and Stockholm ranked among the world’s top 50 student cities.

Top QS ranked public universities: University of Oslo (Norway); University of Copenhagen (Denmark); Lund University (Sweden); University of Helsinki (Finland)

Courses in English: Yes, but some native language proficiency required


As long as you’re an EU student you have equal education rights as native Austrians, meaning you are entitled to free (or very cheap) education for two semesters, followed by a fee of €360 (£300) for every term to follow.

But again, international students are required to pay more – averaging costs of €730 (£615) per semester, with no free teaching. Courses are mainly taught in German and Austrian German, but a number of Masters degrees are offered in English. Vienna in particular is famous for its high quality of living, and the country also boasts stunning architecture and various rich green spaces.

Top QS ranked public universities: University of Vienna; Vienna University of Technology; Universität Innsbruck

Courses in English: Yes, but predominantly postgraduate


While is quite right to recommend Belgium for its fantastic waffles, the city also has plenty to give in the context of higher education.

For EU students, as in France and Germany that border it, Belgium offers state-funded education with an additional (and variable) annual registration fee for every year of study.

EU students will pay up to €835 (£705), while internationals may be charged as much as €4,175 (£3,520). It’s important to note that the cost of tuition varies according to whereabouts in Belgium you study – whether that be a Flemish, German-speaking or French community; so it’s worth doing your research properly.

Thankfully for UK students, Belgium offers a variety of courses taught in English, as well as a choice of ‘professional’ (semi-vocational) or ‘academic’ degrees.

Top QS ranked public universities: KU Leuven; Ghent University; Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL)

Courses in English: Yes

Czech Republic

Studying costs in the Czech Republic are entirely dependent on language ability, but luckily for UK students who may not proficient in Czech, nobody is excluded.

For those fluent in the native language, higher education is completely free – regardless of your nationality.

Those on English Language programmes, however, are required to pay a fee just over a third of what most UK universities ask, at CZK 108,334 (£3,380). Living costs in the Czech Republic are also far cheaper than in the West, meaning studying here can save you on both tuition and maintenance. If you speak Czech, even better.

Top QS ranked public universities: Charles University in Prague; Czech Technical University in Prague; Masaryk University

Courses in English: Yes, but at an extra cost


Among the cheapest places to live in Europe, Greece delivers on both low living and tuition costs – and your university is even likely to cover the cost of your study resources.

Domestic and EU students receive higher education free of charge, and international students pay only a fraction of the UK’s costs, averaging €1,500 (£1,265) per year.

The downside is the vast majority of teaching is in Greek, although Erasmus students enjoy an English-taught exchange, and specialised English study programmes are available at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

An iconic holiday destination despite its recent economic turmoil, Greece is made up of more than 2000 islands, and boasts gorgeous weather, stunning scenery, and iconic tourist destinations such as Athens and Crete.

Top QS ranked public universities: National Technical University of Athens; Aristotle University of Thessaloniki; National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

Courses in English: Yes, but limited


Public education in Italy is not free, but university is markedly cheaper than in the UK – averaging between €850 (£720) and €1000 (£840) per year in tuition fees. Just be careful to distinguish between public and private universities – as the more prestigious institutions may charge up to 16 times the cost of state-funded higher education.

The country itself is obviously rich in history, and typically beautiful – with 51 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and famously excellent food.

It’s not the cheapest in terms of living costs, but the good news for international students (which, as we know, will almost certainly soon include Brits) is that they are eligible for the same scholarships and grants as local students and EU nationals.

Top QS ranked public universities: Politecnico di Milano; Alma Mater Studiorum - University of Bologna; Sapienza University of Rome

Courses in English: Yes


In Spain, much like in the majority of other prime European destinations, public education is free for both local students and EU nationals, while international students are required to pay a little more.

If you do come from outside the EU, the cost of a bachelor’s degree from a public institution can vary from €680-€1,400 (£570-£1,180) per year depending on the speciality of your chosen course; but as with Italy it’s worth watching out for the private schools, who can charge anywhere up to €18,000 (£15,185) for a year’s tuition.

Interestingly, the majority of Spain’s universities are privately funded, with just 24 out of 76 belonging to the state.

In terms of living experience, Barcelona and Madrid both featured in the QS Best Student Cities 2015 ranking, but they also happen to be among the top 50 most expensive places to live in the world.

Top QS ranked public universities: University of Barcelona; Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona; Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

Courses in English: Yes, but limited

Argentina, India, Taiwan

If you’re looking to travel further afield than Europe, there are a handful of universities that offer very cheap education for international students.

External students attending university in Argentina, for example, will pay only a small fee to attend public institutions – somewhere between ARS 8,000 and 24,000 (£500-£1,185) per year. In India too, costs are a fraction of the UK’s asking prices, at roughly Rs 75,350-Rs 332,400 (£2,025-£3,840) for a year’s tuition.

Living costs are especially cheap in Taiwan, with Taipei ranking 5th most affordable student city by QS – and international students are expected to pay no more than NTD 50,460-62,100 (£1,240-£1,525) annually.

While Argentina offers no English-taught courses whatsoever, English is widely studied and understood in both India and Taiwan, making them very popular destinations for international students.

Top QS ranked public universities: Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA) (Argentina), Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore (India), National Taiwan University (NTU) (Taiwan)

Courses in English: No (Argentina), Yes (India, Taiwan).

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