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Since 1985, U.S. college costs have surged by about 500 percent, and tuition fees keep rising. In Germany, they’ve done the opposite.
The country’s universities have been tuition-free since the beginning of October, when Lower Saxony became the last state to scrap the fees. Tuition rates were always low in Germany, but now the German government fully funds the education of its citizens — and even of foreigners.
[Related: Why Danish students are paid to go to college]
Explaining the change, Dorothee Stapelfeldt, a senator in the northern city of Hamburg, said tuition fees “discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study. It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany.”
What might interest potential university students in the United States is that Germany offers some programs in English — and it’s not the only country. Let’s take a look at the surprising — and very cheap — alternatives to pricey American college degrees.
Germany’s higher education landscape primarily consists of internationally well-ranked public universities, some of which receive special funding because the government deems them “excellent institutions.” What’s more, Americans can earn a German undergraduate or graduate degree without speaking a word of German and without having to pay a single dollar of tuition fees: About 900 undergraduate or graduate degrees are offered exclusively in English, with courses ranging from engineering to social sciences. For some German degrees, you don’t even have to formally apply.
In fact, the German government would be happy if you decided to make use of its higher education system. The vast degree offerings in English are intended to prepare German students to communicate in a foreign language, but also to attract foreign students, because the country needs more skilled workers.
This northern European country charges no tuition fees, and it offers a large number of university programs in English. However, the Finnish government amiably reminds interested foreigners that they “are expected to independently cover all everyday living expenses.” In other words: Finland will finance your education, but not your afternoon coffee break.
There are at least 76 English-language undergraduate programs in France, but many are offered by private universities and are expensive. Many more graduate-level courses, however, are designed for English-speaking students, and one out of every three French doctoral degrees is awarded to a foreign student.
“It is no longer needed to be fluent in French to study in France,” according to the government agency Campus France. The website studyportals.eu provides a comprehensive list of the available courses in France and other European countries.
Public university programs charge only a small tuition fee of about 200 dollars for most programs. Other, more elite institutions have adopted a model that requires students to pay fees that are based on the income of their parents. Children of unemployed parents can study for free, while more privileged families have to pay more. This rule is only valid for citizens of the European Union, but even the maximum fees (about $14,000 per year) are often much lower than U.S. tuition fees. Some universities, such as Sciences Po Paris, offer dual degrees with U.S. colleges.
This Scandinavian country is among the world’s wealthiest, and its beautiful landscape beckons. It also offers some of the world’s most cost-efficient college degrees. More than 900 listed programs in 35 universities are taught in English. However, only Ph.D programs are tuition-free.
Norwegian universities do not charge tuition fees for international students. The Norwegian higher education system is similar to the one in the United States: Class sizes are small and professors are easily approachable. Many Norwegian universities offer programs taught in English. American students, for example, could choose “Advanced Studies for Solo Instrumentalists or Chamber Music Ensembles” or “Development Geography.”
But don’t expect to save money in Norway, which has one of the world’s highest costs of living for expats. And be careful where you decide to study. “Winters in general are quite different in different parts of the country, with the north having hard, arctic winters, and the southwest mostly having mild, wet average European winters,” the Norwegian Center for International Cooperation in Education notes.
About 150 English programs are available, and foreign nationals only pay an insignificant registration fee when they enroll. Slovenia borders Italy and Croatia, among Europe’s most popular vacation destinations. However, Times Higher Education, a weekly magazine based in London, did not list one Slovenian university in its recent World University Ranking.
Some Brazilian courses are taught in English, and state universities charge only minor registration fees. Times Higher Education ranks two Brazilian universities among the world’s top 400: the University of Sao Paulo and the State University of Campinas. However, Brazil might be better suited for exchange students seeking a cultural experience rather than a degree.
“It is worth remembering that most of USP activities are carried out in Portuguese,” the University of Sao Paulo reminds applicants on its website.
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