Free college education

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The dispute over making education free rages. The idea has its supporters and its opponents; those who are for it get into arguments about rich and poor and issues of equal opportunity. Those against talk about free college as being a welfare benefit combined with the idea that poorer Americans would be the people paying for it anyway.

But the American arguments lose relevancy in other countries. There are some countries which have made a conscious decision to ensure their tertiary education system is free. You might expect that the countries who offer free education are limited to developing nations who need to pull an educated population into the workforce. But that is not the entire case.




Germany is one of the places where you would least expect education to be free. The country’s economic dominance and reputation as world-leading would immediately suggest a model more like the American. Indeed, Germany has an on-off relationship with free education.

Back in 2006, the government opened the doors to allow institutions to begin to charge tuition. The result was a political furor and mass student demonstration. By 2014 most of the fees had been quietly pushed back into the cupboard for all public universities. Remarkably, this education is not just for German or EU students, but international ones as well.


Like Germany, France has made the decision to allow all those who are educationally qualified access to their tertiary education system. There are usually administrative costs involved though these tend to be less than $200 annually, nothing compared with the cost of education in the US.

Students looking to get into France’s grandes écoles will find that these admin fees will be higher than other public schools and their highly competitive entrance requirements may make it harder to get in from outside the EU.

The Nordic Countries

Countries like Norway and Iceland have a reputation for liberal politics, high taxes and an impressive quality of life. It is not a surprise they also provide free college-level education. The other Nordics, Sweden, Finland and Denmark are a little choosier. Undergraduate education is only free to EU citizens. But graduate education is fully funded to all. Which means students can finish a Ph.D. and get paid at the same time which I think is a pretty sweet deal.



Non-European Countries

Going beyond the European boundaries there are fewer opportunities, and the ones there are might constitute a language barrier.

Though limited to graduate degrees and specifically in science and technology, the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST) offers a sweet package which includes living expenses. Undergraduate and graduate degrees are offered at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and teaching takes place in English as well as programs in Taiwanese and Indian.

Make sure that any program you look at is acknowledged as an equivalent degree in the US. It would be frustrating to spend four years and then realize a degree does not count at home.

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