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  • Countries with Free College Education: 40 Statistics You Should Know in 2020

Countries with Free College Education: 40 Statistics You Should Know in 2020

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Ideally, education should be free for those who can’t afford it. But with the surge in demand and lack of state funding, college tuition keeps skyrocketing to stratospheric levels that only the privileged can afford. However, this is not the case for developed countries with free college.

For countries like Finland, Norway, and Germany, students don’t have to pay anything at all to take a college degree. While these countries offer the ideal education system all students dream of, numbers are telling of how their free education requires certain sacrifices from both the government and the education sector.

In this post, we compiled crucial data and statistics for an in-depth analysis of the education system in countries with tuition-free colleges and universities.

countries with free education

The Cost of College Education Statistics

While the average cost of tuition and fees varies among various universities and colleges, the figures from a survey by US News reveal that in-state tuition prices have grown by 63% in the 12-year period 2008 to 2020. The worst part is that the numbers have no other way to go but up—and experts say state schools still have more room to increase their tuition price.

  • The average tuition and fees for public schools in 2020 is $5,514 for in-state students and $12,145 for out-of-state students. (College Tuition Compare, 2020)
  •  Tuition and fees increased less than 4% across all sectors from the school year 2018-19 to 2019-20. (CollegeBoard, 2020)
  • In the school year 2017-18, funding per student was $7,850. (CollegeBoard, 2020)
  • The average tuition and fees at private colleges rose to 3%. (US News, 2019)
  • In-state tuition for public national universities increased by 63% from 2008 to 2020. (US News, 2019)

average cost of tuition, US

Countries with Free College Statistics

Somewhere between 1100  and 1200, the first known universities were established in Medieval Europe. In the US, Thomas Jefferson initiated a call for compulsory education to be shouldered by the state. As far back as the early 1800s, universities either had relatively low tuition rates or didn’t charge tuition at all. In the 1970s, tuition started rising because of high interest rates and decreased government funding. Currently, there remains a handful of countries that provide free college education. Below, we listed down some of the countries where college students study for free.

Countries with Free College

  • Austria
  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Egypt
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Iceland
  • Kenya
  • Luxembourg
  • Malaysia
  • Morocco
  • Norway
  • Panama
  • Poland
  • Scotland
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Turkey
  • Uruguay

The State of Education in Countries that Offer Free College

While students from the wealthiest families can easily study in the most expensive universities in the US, for lower-income students, a tuition-free college serves as the only ticket to pursue a bachelor’s degree. However, not every country offers free college education—and those that do tend to have drawbacks in their programs, such as high living costs or limited majors to choose from. To get more acquainted with how tuition-free college education works in other countries, let’s take a look at countries with free college statistics below.

Germany

In Germany, all students, regardless of their country of origin, can study for free at all public universities. Top-ranked institutions like the University of Munich and the University of Bonn offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees at no cost. Generally, the only fees required by universities in Germany are administrative fees, which typically cover bus transportation, university facilities, and other student services

Here are some relevant school statistics about free college education in Germany:

  • Administrative fees cost between 100 to 350 EUR per semester. (Studyportals Masters, 2019)
  • For non-consecutive master’s or doctorate degrees, you will be charged tuition leading up to €10,000 per semester. (Studyportals Masters, 2019)
  • Tuition-free universities in Germany include the University of Stuttgart, University of Mannheim, University of Bremen, University of Cologne, and the University of Hamburg. (Studyportals Masters, 2019)
  • For students, the average cost of living in Germany is around 850 EUR/month. (Study in Germany, 2019)
  • The most popular disciplines in Germany include mechanical engineering, computer science, economics, and medicine. (Studyportals Masters, 2019)
  • 40% of international students live in a student residence. (Studyportals Masters, 2019)
  • 30% of international students share a flat. (Studyportals Masters, 2019)

Finland

There are two kinds of tuition-free universities in Finland: regular public universities and universities of applied sciences. In these institutions, students from EU/EEA countries and Switzerland can take bachelor’s and master’s degrees for free. Likewise, international students can enroll in Finnish and Swedish study programs at no cost. For English-taught degrees, however, the government of Finland requires international students to pay tuition.

The following is a detailed breakdown of the free college education offered in Finland:

  • The monthly cost of living in Finland is €700 to 100 per month. (The University of Helsinki, 2019)
  • Universities that have the most number of students are the University of Helsinki, Aalto University, and the University of Turku. (Statistics Finland, 2018)
  • Tuition-free universities in Finland include the University of Vaasa, University of Helsinki, Tampere University, University of Jyvaskyla, and the Lappeenranta University of Technology. (Studyportals Masters, 2019)
  • The Finnish government pays 96% of the total cost of college education in Finland. (National Review, 2018)

Norway

In Norway, you can expect to find free bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. programs in public universities. Like Germany, Norway offers these programs to international students, regardless of which country they came from. All students, however, are required to pay a semester fee that typically costs €30 to €60. This covers the student’s health care, transportation, and discounts to cultural events and activities.

Below are some relevant education statistics about Norway’s college system:

  • In Norway, 24.1% of the population has access to higher education. (Statistics Norway, 2018)
  • In private universities, tuition fees range between €7,000 to €19,000 every year. (Study Portals Masters, 2019)
  • Free universities in Norway include the University of Stavanger, UIT, the Arctic University of Norway, University of Agder, and the University College of Southeast Norway. (Study Portals Masters, 2019)
  • In Norway, 17.6% of the student population are new entrants to tertiary education in the field of business, administration, and law. (OECD, 2019)
  • About 3.5% of international students in Norway are North American students, dominating the entire global student population. (OECD, 2017)
  • Approximately 14.4% of tertiary education graduates studied in the field of social sciences, humanities (except languages), journalism, and information. (OECD, 2018)

Austria

Austria is another country that doesn’t require students from Switzerland and other EU/EEA countries to pay tuition. Public universities offer their courses at no cost, but students taking bachelor’s and master’s degrees need to pay the membership fee for the Austrian Student Union, which costs €20. Most international students aren’t so lucky, though, since Austria requires non-EU/EEA students to pay tuition, ranging from €727  to €7,500 for certain courses. But if you’re a student from developing countries, you can find several public universities that offer tuition-free programs.

Here’s what you need to know about the free college education in Austria:

  • Austria requires students to pay social and student union fees, which never go above 379.36 EUR. (IdeaBroad
  • About 10% of Austria’s federal budget is allotted to educational funds. (Statistik Austria)
  • Approximately 32% of the total educational fund of Austria goes to the higher education sector. (Statistik Austria)
  • In Austria, 83% of young people enroll in higher education. (Statistik Austria, 2019)
  • The University of Vienna is the top university in Austria. (Times Higher Education, 2019)
  • About 26.9% of 25–64-year-olds with tertiary education are graduates of engineering, manufacturing, and construction. (OECD, 2018)
  • Roughly 42.8% of young Austrians are expected to enter bachelor’s or equivalent programs during their lifetimes. (OECD, 2017)

Source: Statistiks Austria (2019)

How Much Do Countries Spend on Their Education System?

Now that we know there are still countries out there that provide free college education, the one important question remains: how do countries with free college pay for it?

The simple answer lies in people’s taxes. Take, for example, Germany, which has one of the most inclusive college programs in the world. Its college funds come from relatively high income taxes. Another way to look at this is that “free” college is not at all free since taxpayers are obliged to pay for it.

Recent higher education trends reveal that for countries that prioritize education, a large part of its national budget is allotted to the educational sector. Let’s take a look at some of the statistics below to find out how much other countries spend on higher education:

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US Spending for Education

In billion US dollars

US Spending for Education
Elementary/secondary education: $85.04 billion

Elementary/secondary education

$85.04 billion
US Spending for Education
Post-secondary education: $69.74 billion

Post-secondary education

$69.74 billion
US Spending for Education
Research programs at universities and related institutions: $35.42 billion

Research programs at universities and related institutions

$35.42 billion
US Spending for Education
Other education: $9.56 billion

Other education

$9.56 billion

Source: Digest of Education Statistics (2018)

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College in the US vs. Other Countries Statistics

The United States is one of the top spenders in education among countries all over the world. It spends roughly $16,268 a year per student, exceeding the OECD average of $10,759. Yet, the money doesn’t seem to reflect on students’ results. Instead, US students are falling behind on basic subjects, such as math, reading, and science, with students from diverse countries outranking them.

However, does free college work well in other countries? Below, we collected various data from different sources for a more in-depth comparison of college in the US vs other countries:

  • American taxpayers spend about $3,370 per student every year. (The Atlantic, 2018)
  • The vast majority of American college spending goes to staff and faculty, adding up to about $23,000 per student a year, twice as much as what Finland, Sweden, or Germany spends on these services. (The Atlantic, 2018)
  • In the US, approximately 70% of full-time students receive grant aid. (The College Board, 2017)
  • In the school year 2018–2019, the majority of international students in the US are from China and India, totaling 369,548 students and 202,014 students, respectively. (Institute of International Education, 2019)
  • 31% of families rely on grants and scholarships to send students to college, while 30% rely on parent income and savings. (Sallie Mae, 2019)

US spending per student

Does Free College Work in Other Countries?

So, does free college work in other countries? To answer that, we’d have to look at three determining factors: the country’s college attainment rates, its education quality, and its funding resources.

Take, for instance, how some countries with free college education maintain their prestige and education quality. They adopt a certain degree of selectivity, allowing them to accept only the most talented and worthy students in their universities. While this helps them keep their elite status, it reflects poorly on their college attainment rates as they end up with fewer college graduates compared to expensive universities with more open enrollment policies.

Another important factor to consider is the country’s funding resources. Most countries with free college education impose higher taxes on its citizens to collect enough funds for their educational expenditures. This means taxpayers will have to shoulder the cost of a country’s entire education system, and for as long as the student population grows, property taxes will keep increasing as well.

Hence, there’s a cloud of uncertainty that surrounds free college models, and most countries are split on their opinions about it. In the US, a 2019 study from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics revealed that 51% of Americans aged between 18 and 29 support tuition-free colleges and universities. This figure is a slight decrease from the same poll that Harvard conducted in the previous year. In 2018, about 56% of the population supported free college.

Percentage of the US Population that Supported Free College

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Source: Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics (2019)

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The Pros and Cons of Free Colleges

To sum up, a world where education is free for everyone is certainly the dream of many—but realistically, a tuition-free college education system can be a tricky business. Hence, not all countries are up to it. With it comes the risk of certain issues and nuances that some countries are not prepared to deal with.

Potentially lowering a university’s prestige and then imposing higher taxes to fund free college education are only a few of the sacrifices that some countries must make. Not to mention how free colleges could undermine a student’s persistence in finishing a certain degree.

It’s not all bad, though. Free colleges allow lower-income students to have access to higher education without relying entirely on student loans. With a tuition-free college system in place, students also have more freedom to pursue a field that they are interested in, instead of opting for the practical majors that lead to more lucrative post-graduation income.

Of course, education free or not is no guarantee of an easy life. In fact, some graduates could find themselves facing quite a reality check once they’re out of college.

Nevertheless, a free college education could pave the way for aspiring young men and women. For most of them, it’s the finish line after years of keeping tight control of all their shopping budgets.

As of this writing, tuition and fees are still a hot topic of debate for all countries in the world. Whether more countries will follow the tuition-free college models, only time can tell.

Louie Andre

By Louie Andre

B2B & SaaS market analyst and senior writer for FinancesOnline. He is most interested in project management solutions, believing all businesses are a work in progress. From pitch deck to exit strategy, he is no stranger to project business hiccups and essentials. He has been involved in a few internet startups including a digital route planner for a triple A affiliate. His advice to vendors and users alike? "Think of benefits, not features."

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