March 18th, 2018
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Three countries with free university education

There are many reasons why your home country isn't providing free higher education for its citizens (let alone foreigners). These reasons usually revolve around resources, costs, value - every country has its own priorities.
EdChron Desk on August 1, 2014 - 11:34 am in Economy, MAIN, Opinions, World


If you think your higher education tuition fee is ridiculous, and you’d rather travel the world with the money and learn from living life instead, that is quite a gamble. But we understand why you feel that way.

With the UK universities moving from increasing their tuition fees up to 9,000 pounds a year, and graduates paying their student loans well into their mid-life stages, it seems like a good idea to get free higher education elsewhere. In the 2010 Global Higher Education Rankings, Finland clearly earns the title of having the “most affordable” system of higher education. This is largely because it is substantially cheaper than other countries on the “out-of-pocket” measures of affordability. However, on most measures such as taxes and living expenses, the top three countries are essentially identical.

affordability ranking

There are many reasons why your home country isn’t providing free higher education for its citizens (let alone foreigners). These reasons usually revolve around resources, costs, value – every country has its own priorities.

You’re probably still reading this because you don’t want to be studying in your native country and have loans between $30,000 to $60,000 after you’ve graduated. Here are three countries that accept foreign students in its (almost) free state or public universities.


The Atlantic recently reported “Finnish children don’t begin school until age 7. They have more recess, shorter school hours than many U.S. children do (nearly 300 fewer hours per year in elementary school), and the lightest homework load of any industrialized nation. There are no gifted programs, almost no private schools, and no high-stakes national standardized tests… yet over the past decade Finland has consistently performed among the top nations on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)”.

A list of universities in Finland can be found here.

Tuition fee: Currently, the tuition fee is zero. Many public universities such as University of Helsinki is free for their bachelor’s programmes. Now, this might change in the future, as Finland’s government has been considering research, trials and policies to evaluate the feasibility of universities charging tuition.

Finland had a five-year trial for universities to charge non-EU/EEA students tuition fee (averaging about 8,000 euros) for its Master’s programmes but the trial has ended. This means that there are no tuition fees charged in Finnish higher education degrees starting in autumn 2014, regardless of level of studies and nationality. There is however a possibility that the situation might change at some point in the future.

Cost of living: When applying for their student residence permit, international students (non-EU/EEA students) need to show that they have at least 560€ per month (6720€ per year) at their disposal. This is the absolute minimum required by the immigration authorities, but we recommend that you reserve at least 700-900 euros per month. 900 euros is about US$1200 monthly. A very good resource if you’re planning to study in Finland in this website.


Norway is 2nd in the chart above, and it has the cheapest educational cost. A look at the University of Oslo’s website tells us foreign students are welcome, as long as you are fluent in Norwegian as all courses are taught in the native language. Check out their Bachelor’s programmes here. There is also a guide on studying in Norway.

Tuition fee: The tuition fee is zero. The website states “since the University of Oslo is a state university and therefore publicly funded, the students here do not pay tuition fees. Most students must pay a small semester registration fee of NOK 550 (approx. 70 euro). This fee gives you the benefit of the services of the Foundation for Student Life (SiO).”

Cost of living: In 2013-2014, the Norwegian government requires international students to demonstrate that they have NOK 94400 at their disposal for an academic year. That works out to NOK 9440 a month. That’s about US$1500 monthly.


The majority of public universities in Germany charge little or zero tuition, even though they are allowed to charge tuition. You can visit the list of universities here. According to Ulrike Hartmann from the online portal, “as a rule, no public universities charge tuition fees for bachelor’s degree programmes.”

Tuition fee: Generally, zeroThe Freie Universität Berlin indicates its fees and contributions a student must pay, which is less than 300 euros per semester.

Cost of living: The Freie Universität Berlin suggests “you should count on spending a minimum of 600 to 700 Euro (rental fees, grocery, leisure time etc.). In order to obtain an entry visa or a residence permit for study purposes, you must prove that this monthly amount is at your disposal, independent of any job.” 700 euros is about US$950 monthly.

You still must have money prepared

It’s not all rosy – you can’t just hop on a plane to your country of choice and enrol in a university. Here are some things you need to consider.

Acceptance letter – You must first be accepted by the school.

Housing – You must have settled your living arrangement – if you’re not staying rent-free with someone, you’ll have to work out your housing costs and prove you’ve made such arrangements prior to getting your visa or entry permit. These cost money.
Free tuition only means no school fees. It doesn’t mean free education. There are administrative fees and other fancy-name fees you’ll still have to pay to get into college. Check with the university on this.

Living costs – Cost of living in these countries are high. Someone is paying for the tuition. Who? Well, everyone in the country. Because the money has to be coughed up from somewhere to pay for maintenance and resources used for public universities, substantial taxpayer dollars are channeled to higher education. These countries therefore have high tax rates in general. Consumer goods, insurance and rent will cost more too. Although free higher education is just one factor that contribute to the high living costs, it still is a factor.

Show me the money – You can’t just get an entry visa or a student permit with $5 on you. You are expected to have the funds (and be able to show it) to support your living expenses – this immigration regulation limits the risk of you running into financial trouble, which is a good thing.

This means you must have the funds to study overseas, even though tuition is free. How much would you need? It depends on the countries, but generally you will need at least $15,000 in the bank to show for and give yourself a head start – you’ll definitely need to spend on incidental expenses you didn’t foresee.

And don’t forget to pay the processing fee for your visa application.

While tuition is free, you’ll still need money to survive. If you’re banking on part-time work while studying, ensure you have a safety net to fall back on; there is also a limit on the hours students can work. Ultimately, the money you save from tuition fees will give you a new life experience overseas, teach you independence and value of goods and good relationships.

What do you think – would you rather just pay tuition fees at your local university or travel to study for (almost) free?

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