Free universities around the world

March 17, 2017
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With rising tuition fees at UK universities and increasing costs of living, it is no wonder that some British students are looking further afield for postgraduate education.

Those that do so are spoiled for choice with a plethora of options available within the European Union. As EU citizens, British students are entitled to subsidised or fully free education at many universities across the continent. And fortunately, there are numerous courses taught entirely in English.

Official figures show a distinct decline in home students enrolling on UK master’s courses, with Higher Education Statistics Agency data showing a 5.6 per cent decrease during the year 2012/13. According to the Times Educational Supplement, the average fee for UK or EU students to take a master’s degree in 2013/14 increased by 7 per cent from the year before.

Lisa Barrington, from the Wirral, is one Briton who has taken the plunge and left the UK in search of affordable education. She is currently on a two-year master’s programme in Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in southern Sweden, which charges no tuition fees.

Barrington says: “I couldn’t afford the UK fees (£13, 000-24, 000 for two years) and accommodation/living at the same time. To take out a loan at these prices would have added to my existing student debt and the interest rates for repayment were very high. So this wasn’t really an option.”

There is more to the European experience than just saving money. Barrington points out that the mix of social science, language and focus on research methodologies was a total change from her UK undergraduate course. “It helped me see my subject area in a whole new light, ” she says.

Francesca Martin, 22, from north-east England, chose Uppsala University, ranked among the best in the world, for her master’s degree in biosciences. As in Barrington’s case, it was mainly free tuition that enticed Martin to Sweden. When asked what dissuaded her from studying in the UK, she replied: “Quite simply, the tuition fees. Considering I'm probably in over £20, 000 of debt from my bachelor’s degree alone, I couldn't imagine taking out a further £10, 000.”

Universities in Finland, Denmark and Norway also offer free postgraduate courses in English. Finland has been lauded for having the world’s best education system, gaining top marks in the World Economic Forum 2014 Global Competitiveness Report. The northern European nation is attracting modest yet increasing numbers of British students, according to Irma Garam of the Finnish international cooperation agency CIMO, citing recent information from Statistics Finland.

And these monetary advantages are not just for postgraduates. Undergraduate education is also free in Sweden, Germany and Scandinavian countries.

However, cost of living remains a major downside to studying in Scandinavia, especially for those who enjoy a drink. Sweden in particular is well known for its expensive beer, averaging at least £5 a pint. More importantly perhaps, students have encountered challenging bureaucracy in Sweden, such as when searching for accommodation or setting up a bank account.

A student at Lund University, who wished to remain anonymous, felt that the quality of teaching during his undergraduate degree at Bristol was significantly higher than in his current department. He says: “I realise that a reasonable amount of self-learning is inherent at master’s level, but here I’ve been seemingly left completely to my own devices.”

Apart from the Scandinavian countries, there are other free university options on offer within the EU, such as in Germany, which abolished tuition fees last year in a bid to make education accessible to everyone.

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