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Is University Still Worth It?

This Is How Much You Have to Pay for University in Other European Countries

British students pay the highest average university tuition in the world – so should you move to Romania for your degree in Biomedical Sciences?
24.8.16

Photo by Francisco Osorio via

British students pay the highest average university tuition in the world, and subsequently rack up the highest student loan debt in the English-speaking world.

This begs the question: does it make economic and/or academic sense to bid the motherland farewell for a few years and do your degree elsewhere? We asked the editors at a few European VICE offices to explain what the situation is like in their country; what exactly are they getting at uni and how much are they paying for it?

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DENMARK

Higher education in Denmark is free. Free! It's free for students from Denmark, from the EEA (which is the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), from Switzerland – and for students from any other place in the world, provided they're in an exchange programme. Denmark is one of those socialist utopias that pay you for the honour of you studying there. Danish students receive a grant every month, called the Danish State Educational Support (SU), which is currently 5,941 Danish kroner (about €805) before taxes. On top of that, you can apply for a student loan for an additional 3,040 kroner (€410) each month.

However glorious that sounds, the free education and the SU are cause for a lot of political debate in Denmark. The grants are the highest in all the Nordic countries, while the quality of higher education in Denmark is about the same. What makes all of this possible, of course, is the fact that Denmark has one of the highest tax rates in the world – you pay it all back later, so to speak. Unless you don't, because you've fucked off to your home country after graduation.

Foreign students can apply for the grant as well, provided they find a job for 10 or 12 hours a week during their studies. Since that became available in 2013, the number of non-Danish students receiving the state grant has gone up by 5,000. The Danish education minister told newspaper Jyllands-Posten last May: "It is not and never has been the intention that Denmark should pay to educate the citizens of other EU countries." So it remains to be seen how long Denmark can afford to be this socialist academic utopia.

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- Lars Jellestad, VICE Denmark

ROMANIA

It's relatively easy to get a degree without having to work very hard for it in Romania – if you have money and go to a private university, for example. A few years ago, diplomas of about 100,000 students from the country's largest private university were declared invalid because the curriculum wasn't up to par and students were hardly required to show up to class. Tuition at public universities varies between €360 and €1,550 a year – which is steep considering the average monthly wage in Romania is about €470. Student loans don't really exist, but the government gives out scholarships to over 62,000 of the best Romanian students every year, covering full tuition at public universities and half of transportation costs. When you're in the top of your class, you can get a merit-based grant of about €80 a month – just enough to buy your books, beers and condoms.

The Romanian system has led to loads of students enrolling at the University of Agronomic Sciences in Bucharest – which receives a lot of European funding to turn all Romanians into farmers – just for the low fee and cheap dorm rooms. After graduation, those students apply for better paying jobs wholly unrelated to farming. There aren't many majors taught in English, and tuition for non-EU students can be up to €9,500, but that doesn't stop foreign students from enrolling. Not all of them adapt well to Romanian academic life, however: in 2014, a group of French medical students in Romania protested after their teachers asked them each for €600 as a bribe to pass an exam.

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- Mihai Popescu, VICE Romania

FRANCE

National and international students enrolling at a French public university pay €184 a year for their three-year BA degree and €256 a year for their two-year MA. A PhD comes to €391 a year – and students can apply for grants.

Those fees are pretty low, but that might be due to the fact you're not paying for building maintenance. Some evidence supporting this theory can be found on the Tumblr page Ruines d'Université, which chronicles the deteriorating state of French uni buildings. Many kids from middle and upper-class families go to private schools – business schools, political sciences schools, that sort of thing – where tuition fees are much higher. An MA at Sciences Po Paris, the most famous political sciences school in France, will set you back €13,970 a year. A degree from one of those schools dramatically increases your chances of getting a job and better pay after graduation. So even in France, all students are equal, but some students are more equal than others.

- Romain Gonzalez, VICE France

Photo by Jake Lewis, via

GERMANY

Studying in Germany was free for years, but that changed in 2005 when a federal court decided that universities were allowed to ask for tuition fees from their students. That decision was met with widespread resistance and student protests throughout Germany – with success. First, tuition fees were banned again on an individual state level, and in 2014 it was decided on a federal level that studying at any public university in Germany should be free. That goes for EU students as well as for non-EU students.

So studying in Germany is free again, but student life itself is not. The Germans wouldn't be the Germans if they hadn't thought of a way around that: the so-called BAföG is a grant from the state supporting students with lower-income parents – which is granted to about a quarter of students in Germany. Half of this monthly fee is a gift, and the other half is an interest-free loan.

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Berivan Kilic, VICE Germany

ITALY

The vast majority of Italian universities are public – even the best ones. That means tuition fees are reasonable; depending on the university, faculty and the student's economic situation, the tuition is between €1,000 and €3,000 a year. It's definitely not the cheapest in Europe, bit it's not too bad either.

What definitely is bad: how our universities are organised. Like every state institution in Italy, the bureaucracy at universities is mind-boggling. Italian universities also do pretty poorly in international university rankings. One of the main problems with the Italian system is that it receives very little government support – significantly less than other academic institutions in Europe. So if you go to university in Italy, it'll be relatively affordable – but don't expect nice study halls with wifi and wall sockets, top level laboratories or even toilet paper in the bathrooms.

- Flavia Guidi, VICE Italy

GREECE

An undergraduate degree at Greek universities is free, and most take four years to complete. It's free for EEA citizens too, with little bureaucracy and no entrance examinations – a high school degree is enough. You will, however, need to be proficient in Greek for most courses, and prove that with a certificate. Meanwhile, students from outside the EEA pay fees to cover a small percentage of study costs and books – which comes in at about €500 per academic year.

The postgraduate situation is a bit different – for a quality MA programme you pay up to €10,000. There are some free postgraduate programs, too, but there isn't really a wide variety of fields on offer. That's why many Greeks go abroad for their MA or PhD. That, of course, isn't ideal either – they'll be confronted with a much higher cost of living and significantly greyer skies.

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- Anna Nini, VICE Greece

SERBIA

When Serbia was part of communist Yugoslavia, anyone could enrol into any university programme for free. A lovely idea, but it did result in a huge number of graduates in fields that have no available jobs or have become completely obsolete. There's an enormous number of unemployed Serbian art historians, for example – while the National Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade have both been closed for more than a decade for what is being called "renovation".

After the fall of communism, the state remained the owner of eight main universities in the country. Tuition is free for students who perform best at the entrance exams – they only pay for books and registration fees, a maximum of €250 a year. Tuition at state-owned universities can be up to to €1,000 per year, and about €1,500 to €3,000 per year for non-Serbians. Many of the lectures are in Serbian and the methods and techniques used in classes can be pretty outdated.

Private universities – which about half of the country's 220,000 students attend – were established after the fall of communism. You pay way more for them, and while some of them are wonderfully modern and fully equipped, others are mostly just an institution you pay in exchange for a diploma. Serbia offers student loans, too – at €70 a month in a country with an average monthly salary of €400. The loan can be repaid without interest after graduation. Just 7.1 percent of Serbian students use that loan, which shows that many students are financed either by their parents or work to be able to pay for university.

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- Jovana Netković, VICE Serbia

THE NETHERLANDS

Dutch and EEA students pay an annual fee of €1,984 to study in the Netherlands. Students outside of that area look at paying between €6,000 (for majors like Economics or Law) and €20,000 (for Medicine) for a BA degree. Before January of 2015, Dutch university students were all granted a monthly allowance by the government, which would automatically be a gift if a student received his or her diploma within ten years. The amount of that allowance depended on the financial situation of the student's parents, and whether the student was living with them or away from home. At the very most, students living with their parents could receive about €500 a month, or a maximum of €700 if they were living on their own. On top of that, students had easy access to a monthly loan, to be paid back over 15 years with very little interest.

This happy situation was changed in early 2015, when the monthly grant was turned into a student loan. In November of 2014, a few thousand prospective students gathered in The Hague to protest this new system – to no avail. The government promised to use the money freed up to improve the quality of education. Regardless of whether that will actually happen, the change has already made it more difficult for Dutch students to attend university. In 2015, the number of students enrolling at a university or college dropped 6.8 percent.

- Charlotte Simons, VICE Netherlands

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