Where to Get Free Post-secondary Education in English

Arcada University of Applied Sciences in HelsinkiAfter doing some independent research for my last article on German, a country that I am growing to like as I learn more about it, I decided to find out what other countries offer higher education in English. Sure, America has the best universities in the world. The United Kingdom has some of the oldest, most established institutions ever. Canada and Japan have world authorities in their respective fields teaching in their universities. These are all fantastic options for higher education, but they have one thing that the following list of countries doesn’t have: tuition fees.

Free Education in English

[November 23 edit: Free education in these countries applies to public (not private) universities. All of the information below, unless stated explicitly, refers to public institutions.]

Germany

What’s free: All programs

Currently on the DAAD website (for the September 2015 semester), there are 126 English-language bachelor degrees, 752 master’s degrees, and 313 doctorate degrees available. This could change over the years, but for now, it’s safe to say that you have a good chance of finding what you’re looking for here. See my in-depth article for more.

These three German universities are among the top 60 universities in the world: University of Heidelberg, University of Munich, Munich Institute of Technology

Finland

What’s free: All programs

According to the Study in Finland website, “For those who wish to study in English, Finnish universities provide close to 200 Master’s degree programmes, and 23 special Doctoral programmes.” In fact, a grand total of 425 degree programs are listed among 14 universities, including the University of Helsinki, currently ranked the 67th top university in the world at the QS World University Rankings.

These five Finnish universities are among the top 300 universities in the world: University of Helsinki, Aalto University, University of Turku, University of Oulu, University of Eastern Finland

Sweden

What’s free: PhD programs

Sure, PhD students in Sweden are the only to pay no tuition, but for other students, the tuition is still incredibly cheap. Honestly, it’s almost as good as free. According to the Washington Post, “More than 900 listed programs in 35 universities are taught in English.”

The Study in Sweden website currently lists 335 bachelor’s and master’s programs that are taught in English (in the September 2015 semester), with the message “We’re currently experiencing technical difficulties with our database, and not all programmes are appearing in search results.

These five Swedish universities are among the top 200 universities in the world: Lund University, Uppsala University KHT, Royal Institute of Technology, Chalmers University of Technology, Stockholm University

Norway

What’s Free: All programs

From the Study in Norway university, there are five bachelor programs offered:

  • Bachelor in Acting and Sceneography at Østfold University College/Norwegian Theatre Academy
  • Bachelor of Science in Biology at University of Nordland
  • Bachelor in Business Administration (BBA) at BI Norwegian Business School
  • Bachelor in Development Studies at Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB)
  • Bachelor of Shipping Management at BI Norwegian Business School

This may not seem like much… and that’s true, it’s not. However, there are currently 220 master’s programs listed. As for PhD programs in English, the website mentions “More and more Ph.D. programmes in English are being offered at Norwegian institutions. You should contact each institution individually for more information.”

These four Norwegian universities are among the top 400 universities in the world: University of Oslo, University of Bergen, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, University of Tromso

Honourable Mentions

Iceland

What’s free: Tuition at public (but not private) universities

Just to be clear, these are the four public universities in Iceland: the University of Iceland, Agricultural University of Iceland, Holar University College, and the University of Akureyri. Considering this country is the most gender equal in the world and has a lot to show the world about human rights and social justice, there is a lot to love about Iceland. Registration fees generally cost a few hundred dollars, but tuition here is otherwise free.

However, if you are planning on studying in Iceland, you have to know what you’re getting yourself into. While probably 90% of the population speaks fluent English (the only who don’t are the older people), and Iceland has without a doubt some of the most gorgeous views you could ever see on this planet, you have to keep in mind that the population of the entire country is around 300,000 people. To put that into perspective, more than ten times the country’s entire population attended Rod Stewart’s new year’s eve concert in 1994 (3.5 million attendees).

But hey – with 5% of the student population of Iceland being foreign, and an already small population, I think your chances of getting in would be pretty good. The bigger challenge might be finding the program you want within the nine post-secondary institutions in the country.

If you’re interested in private institutions, the Study in Europe website mentions that they will require tuition, but it is not so expensive:

Tuition fees vary depending on the institution and study program, but in general, EU students pay lower tuition fees than non-EU students according to the list below:

– EU students usually pay an estimated tuition fee that ranges from EUR 30 [37 USD] per credit to EUR 60 [75 USD] per credit

– Non-EU students are charged an estimated tuition fee that ranges from EUR 100 [125 USD] per credit to EUR 150 [187 USD] EUR per credit

“Per credit” is one thing, but what about per semester? On the University of Reykjavik website (probably the most expensive, and gorgeous, in the country), it says the tuition for full-time study per semester of undergraduate studies for non-EU international students is 199,000 ISK. This looks bad, until you realize that it’s $1625 per semester, which isn’t so expensive. But remember, this is a private university, not a public one; the public ones are all free.

France

What’s free: Err… okay it’s not generally free… but see below.

According to the Washington Post, a third of the PhDs awarded are to foreign students. The government agency Campus France mentioned that “It is no longer needed to be fluent in French to study in France,” and it offers at least 76 English-language bachelor programs throughout the country. Those which are offered by private universities tend to be expensive, so that would defeat the purpose of seeking cheap education.

It seems that, as far as France is concerned (and most of the universities above, for that matter) there are much more options for graduate students. Campus France’s mentions that there are almost 700 programs offered in English. In some public universities, tuition fees are around a laughably affordable $200. Other programs (more elite institutions) have an interesting system for students from the EU, whereby tuition fees are proportionally based on their parents’ incomes. Therefore, students from the EU with unemployed parents can study for free at such universities, whereas there’s a maximum (around $14,000) tuition fee for those of wealthier parents.

Denmark

What’s free: A hell of a lot… if you’re Danish, or from the EU.

I’ll be honest; I don’t know if I could go to a university and pay money to attend a class where locals in the same class not only have free tuition, and free rent, but actually get paid $1000 per month (or only $500 if they live with their parents). Indeed, Denmark is what you might imagine when you think of “European socialism;” and if I were born here, I would be incredibly proud to get paid to attend university. It all makes sense when you consider the country’s high taxes; but unfortunately, the tuition for those of us from outside the EU can expect to pay “USD 8,000-21,000 / Euro 6,000-16,000 (DKK 45,000-120,000).” With the other options for free education available, I don’t know why anyone from an overseas country would make this choice, unless they are rich (in case, why would you be reading this article?) or they are fascinated with the specific Danish culture.

Let’s be clear. Attending university without paying tuition is for students who:

  1. were born in Denmark (including the Faroe Islands and Greenland)
  2. hold a humanitarian or permanent resident visa
  3. have a temporary residence permit at the time of application, which can be upgraded to a permanent one
  4. come from the Nordic Council, the European Economic Area, or the EU
  5. are on an exchange program

Unfortunately, that means I would probably never be eligible, unless I manage to get #3 above. But if the Scandinavian experience is what you seek, there’s always the three no-tuition options mentioned above – Finland, Sweden, and Norway.

Spain

What’s free: Nothing, sorry…

Okay I won’t go into this too much (because it’s not free) but Spain does offer many undergraduate and graduate courses in English. The reason I mention this country at all is because the Complete University Guide says “In all areas, however, the costs are much lower than in the UK, ranging from about £400 to £1,000 [$1600 USD] per year. Private universities are much more expensive.” Unfortunately, they also mention that scholarships for international students are rare, but for only $1600 per year, it’s not a bad deal at all. There are also several really good options for studying in English.

Austria

What’ free: Tuition for students from developing countries

Sure, the chances that you are both from a developing country and reading this blog are slim. But according to Scholars4dev, “If you are an non-EU student, federal/public universities in Austria only charge about 726.72  Euros [$912 USD] for tuition fees plus 17.50 Euros for the Austrian Student Union and insurance fee per semester.” That’s pretty affordable.

From the Complete University Guide, “Austria has 23 public and 11 private universities. There are three Austrian universities in the QS World University Rankings 2013–14 Top 300. The nation’s leading university, the University of Vienna is 158th, Vienna University of Technology is 264th, and Universität Innsbruck is 289th.” They also mention “A dozen or so undergraduate and many more postgraduate courses are taught in English. More are taught in English and German.” So tuition here is not free like in Germany, but it’s a similar cultural experience for a price that won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

The Bottom Line

If money is an issue for you, and you are pursuing post-secondary education in English, you should definitely consider the options above. If not, then you might be missing out on both an international experience, as well as a potentially debt-free clean slate on which to start your entry into the workforce (whichever country’s workforce that may be).

Of course, you’ll have to pay your own living expenses, and these countries have some of the highest taxes in the world. But unless you’re freeloading off your parents, you’ll probably have to pay a lot for living expenses anyways. At least this way, you get to see the world, get an international experience (which looks great on the CV), and make a “second home” for yourself abroad.

Photo: Arcada University of Applied Sciences (Finland)
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