Free Tuition Could End up Costing You! Costs and funding


By Toby Lior Carmel

If you are about to go abroad for studies for an extended period of time, you probably realized already that, unless you are on a full-ride scholarship that pays for absolutely everything, most likely you will have to pay special attention to how much you will be spending in your new destination.

Ranges for tuition fees

In Europe, free tuition fees usually apply to foreign students coming from countries belonging to the European Union. Students pay no tuition when they go to study abroad in countries like Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Scotland, Austria and most of Germany, while several other countries such as Belgium offer tuition at very low prices – under €1,000 a year. This can come as a shock to those who are used to paying a lot for tuition, in particular British students who have been accustomed to paying around £8,000 in tuition fees.

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Many of the Southern and Eastern European countries, while happily accepting of international students and offering many programs in English, do charge tuition fees, and these are normally higher than those found in the Western part of the continent. A degree course in Estonia will run at least a couple of thousand Euros per year. In Poland, expect to pay around €2,500 a year, while Spain charges around €1,000 annually.

Some universities and colleges in the United States also offer free tuition fees for all international students. Some offer full scholarship coverage of tuition fees, while also financing food or accommodation expenses. Other higher education institutions offer students the opportunity to pay for their tuition by working no more than 20 hours a week on the university premises.

Many Australian universities attract international students with generous scholarships covering most or all tuition fees. Such scholarships and tuition waivers are funded by the Australian government to encourage international students to enrol in universities around the country.

Some universities in China offer exclusive one-year free tuition to international students coming from all over the world.

What lies behind the tuition fee

These tuition fees, however, can be deceptive, since they are not representative of the overall cost of living in any of those countries. Paradoxically enough, the countries that offer free or very cheap tuition are often the ones that will end up costing the most to actually live in.

For example, Finland is becoming a popular destination for foreign students wishing to pursue both bachelors and masters degree. Students from all over the world are enrolling in Finnish universities and polytechnics, in order to benefit from the free tuition and high quality of education. However, just because tuition is free does not mean that an international student will have a cheap and easy life there. Accommodation, food, and other expenses are all things that the student will have to pay for on his own, and in a place like Finland, these will likely end up costing much more than what he or she is used to paying back home.

The Study in Finland website gives an overview of how much money a foreign student will need in order to sustain him or herself while studying in Finland. The sum they suggest is a staggering 700-900€ a month, for the entire duration of the study program. Keep in mind this is the bare minimum a student would need if he/she were staying in university accommodations, cooking for himself, hardly going out, while living and studying outside the capital.


On top of that, the international student will be expected to pay a deposit of several hundred Euros for his accommodation, as well as for university books and materials, and travel to and from his home country. Being a foreign student and speaking no Finnish, one should also expect finding a student job to be a long and arduous process, and you would have to support yourself for possibly many months before you are able to find one.

Now let’s return to Poland, where we were expected to pay around €2,000 a year in tuition fees alone. On the surface, it seems as if, given the choice between tuition-free studies in Finland, and pricier education in Poland, most students would choose to study in Finland. However, in Poland, if we divide the €2,000 by 12 months, we end up paying around €166 a month just for our education. To this we must add our living expenses. However, while living expenses in Finland were between 700-900€ a month, in Poland it seems we can live a very decent student life for between 275-500€ a month, according to Study in Poland. That means that a relatively frugal international student can get by in Poland for a mere €440 a month (including tuition). As you can see – Poland ends up being much cheaper.

Take all factors into consideration

The same story repeats itself with many other examples. A typical month in Norway will cost you an earth-shattering €1,100, but while the degrees in Latvia can cost between 2000-4000€, living expenses for an average month could be as low as €329.

There are exceptions, of course, as some countries are both expensive and have high tuition as well. The United Kingdom (except for Scotland) has higher tuition fees as well as high living expenses. Croatia, also, will charge around €3,000 a year in tuition while not exactly being cheap to live in, either, with monthly living expenses of between 400-700€.


In the case of US and Australia, free tuition and large scholarship opportunities may sometimes be dedicated only to the best prospective students who apply to study in the respective universities. For students coming from Europe and Asia, the high costs of travelling to US and Australia should be taken into consideration. Also, accepting a tempting free Chinese tuition fee may be risky if you don’t have a clear plan of how to pay for your tuition in your second year of study.

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Make use of the scholarship possibility

To get the best of both worlds, you should always apply for a scholarship. These are more common than you might think – and they are available for practically everywhere. Begin your scholarship research at the same time as you are searching for your future university of education institution. If you end up being accepted somewhere, but were refused a scholarship for it – you could always simply not go!

The fees mentioned in this article might be higher for non-European students. Costs do not consider any other factors like reputation, quality of education, student support system and others.

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