A European-centric view of tertiary education

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With the exception of the UK, which is shortly leaving the European Union anyway, many European countries offer education a no-cost or little cost to the student. It is an approach which creates a split between many people but recently New York got on board with the idea, albeit in a limited way.

As long as the degree program is recognized in the US, the idea of a free education is an attractive proposition for many especially for those whose parents are in a lower income bracket. Being able to get a degree from an internationally recognized institution rather than a second or third tier one makes good sense. I can see it appealing to many people.



What exactly is free education?

What does free actually mean though? Free sometimes means there are no tuition charges, although there is often an administration charge. While the admin charge varies, it is considerably less than tuition charges would be, often only in the region of hundreds of dollars annually.

But free can go beyond tuition. Should free mean that living and board expenses are paid, or that in someway parents are means tested and a sliding scale imposed reflecting the parent’s ability to pay?

Many of the European countries offer a mix of both. There is free tuition at public schools, and there are some sorts of grants available to those who either win them or qualify for them.

Many students at European Universities are taking part-time jobs to make ends meet, as free stops at tuition.

The discussion simplified

The main argument for free education at the college level is those who can’t afford it can’t go. It means we miss out on the brains of some young people and their potential contribution to society because the cost of fees and the debt at the end of three or four years is off-putting.

Certainly, in the UK where tuition fees were recently raised for the second time in a couple of years, the number of applications is dropping – not catastrophically but it is going in the wrong direction.


Problematic in the UK is the tie to class. Stopping or making it more difficult for the children from lower-income families to make it underlies the class distinction which still continues to rear its ugly head.

The strong argument is there can be no egalitarian society if all children don’t have the same access to education. It is compelling – brains are given out at any level in society.

There is still a burden to pay – somehow

For the countries like Germany and France, Austria and even Croatia where there is free education – someone has to pay. This usually ends up being a tax burden, which means that all people are paying for the education of part of a community. You can understand why the childless would find it inequitable for them to pay for the education of someone else’s children. The conversation is polarizing, and there is no easy answer.

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