Countries with Free College Education: 49 Statistics You Should Know in 2021/2022

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. Luckily, due to the pandemic, the U.S. did not see drastic tuition increases. However, tuition increases are not an issue at all 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 the U.S. News reveals 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, 2021)
  • Meanwhile, for private schools in the U.S., the average tuition is $24,107 (College Tuition Compare, 2021)
  • 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%. (U.S. News, 2020)
  • In-state tuition for public national universities increased by 63% from 2008 to 2020. (U.S. News, 2020)

cost of tuition in the US

Countries with Free College Statistics

Somewhere between 1100 and 1200, the first known universities were established in Medieval Europe. In the U.S., 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 Offering Free College Education

  • 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 U.S., 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.


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 per semester. (, 2020)
  • For non-consecutive master’s or doctorate degrees, you will be charged tuition leading up to €10,000 per semester. (, 2020)
  • Tuition-free universities in Germany include the University of Stuttgart, the University of Mannheim, the University of Bremen, the University of Cologne, and the University of Hamburg. (, 2020)
  • For students, the average cost of living in Germany is around €850/month. (German Academic Exchange Service, 2019)
  • The most popular disciplines in Germany include mechanical engineering, computer science, economics, and medicine. (, 2020)
  • 40% of international students live in a student residence. (, 2020)
  • 30% of international students share a flat. (, 2020)


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. (University of Helsinki, 2021)
  • Universities that have the most number of students are the University of Helsinki, Aalto University, and the University of Turku. (Tilastokeskus, 2019)
  • Tuition-free universities in Finland include the University of Vaasa, the University of Helsinki, Tampere University, the University of Jyvaskyla, and the Lappeenranta University of Technology., 2020)
  • The Finnish government pays 96% of the total cost of college education in Finland. (National Review, 2019)


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, 34.6% have attained short and long higher education. (Statistics Norway, 2020)
  • In private universities, tuition fees range between €7,000 to €19,000 every year. (, 2020)
  • Free universities in Norway include the University of Stavanger, UIT, the Arctic University of Norway, the University of Agder, and the University College of Southeast Norway. (, 2020)
  • 17.1% of the Norwegian student population are new entrants to tertiary education in the field of business, administration, and law. (OECD, 2020)
  • In 2019, there were 1,610 students from the U.S. who studied in Norway. (Statistics Norway, 2020)
  • In a survey, 81% of students from North America said that Norway is the first country where they have studied abroad. (Diku, 2019)
  • In 2019, there were 28,491 students studying humanities and the arts in the country. (Statistics Norway, 2020)


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:

  • Students from the European Union and the European Economic Area who enroll in a full-time degree or exchange program don’t have to pay tuition fees at public universities. However, they are required to pay a fee of €20 per semester for student union membership and student accident insurance. (, 2020)
  • 42% of adults aged 25 to 34 in Austria held a tertiary degree in 2019. (OECD, 2020)
  • In Austria, 83% of young people enroll in higher education. (, 2019)
  • The University of Vienna is one of the top 15 universities in Vienna. (, 2021)
  • About 26.9% of 25 to 64-year-olds with tertiary education are graduates of engineering, manufacturing, and construction. (OECD, 2020)
  • Roughly 42.8% of young Austrians are expected to enter a bachelor’s program or an equivalent program during their lifetimes. (OECD, 2020)

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 their 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:

  • The French government spends roughly €72 billion to fund its education sector. (Statista, 2020)
  • Iran’s total expenditures on education represent 4% of its total GDP. (World Bank)
  • In 2019, 6.51% of South Africa’s total GDP went to the education sector. (, 2019)
  • The U.S. spends approximately $700 billion on public education. (U.S. Department of Education, 2020)
  • Moreover, the U.S. is projected to spend $5 billion each year from 2021 to 2030 in outlays for higher education. (US Congressional Budget Office, 2020)
  • Norway spends 1.3% of its annual GDP on college subsidies. (Business Insider, 2020)
  • As of the fiscal year ending in March 2021, approximately £89.4 billion will go to the education sector in the UK. (UK Public Spending, 2021)

Source: US Congressional Budget Office

College in the U.S. 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, American 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 U.S. vs other countries:

  • The U.S. spends $33,180 per full-time student at the postsecondary level. (, 2020)
  • 60% of college spending is allotted for salaries and personnel. (Inside Higher Ed, 2020)
  • In the U.S., 86% of college students receive some form of financial aid. (, 2020)
  • In the school year 2019–2020, the majority of international students in the U.S. are from China and India, totaling 373,000 students and 193,000 students, respectively. (Migration Policy Institute, 2021)
  • The number of international students enrolled in the U.S. reached 1.1 for the SY 2019-2020. (Migration Policy Institute, 2021)
  • For SY 2019-2020, international students comprised 6% of all students enrolled in higher education in the U.S. 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 expenditure 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 their 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 U.S., 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 (CNBC, 2019). Another study found that 63% of U.S. adults are in favor of free public college, with 37% strongly in favor of said proposal (Pew Research Center, 2020).

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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Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Education

The COVID-19 pandemic forced colleges and universities in the U.S and around the world to close and make a drastic shift to online classes. The challenges brought about by the pandemic has made the calls for free college in the U.S. stronger and has been included in the Biden administration’s campaign promises.

  • Over 1,300 colleges and universities in all 50 states in the U.S. canceled face-to-face classes or shifted to online learning. (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2020)
  • 67% of colleges in the states were planning for in-person classes as part of their reopening strategy. Another 7% were preparing for online classes, 8% will employ a mix of online and in-person classes, and 9% will consider other scenarios. (The 74, 2020)
  • One of the campaign promises by the Biden administration is to make tuition at public colleges and universities free for students whose families with incomes less than $125,000. (U.S. News, 2021)

online learning in the US

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, especially as students expect lower tuition with the shift to online learning due to the pandemic. Whether more countries will follow the tuition-free college models, only time can tell.



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Jenny Chang

By Jenny Chang

Jenny Chang is a senior writer specializing in SaaS and B2B software solutions. Her decision to focus on these two industries was spurred by their explosive growth in the last decade, much of it she attributes to the emergence of disruptive technologies and the quick adoption by businesses that were quick to recognize their values to their organizations. She has covered all the major developments in SaaS and B2B software solutions, from the introduction of massive ERPs to small business platforms to help startups on their way to success.

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