Cheapest places to study at a top university

Germany, Italy, Sweden and many other countries offer low tuition to study at some of the world's best universities
September 22 2016

The notion of studying abroad at a well-respected foreign university is starting to become less of a luxury, and more of a serious alternative for cash-strapped students looking for cheaper university options.

According to research by international currency experts FairFX, when taking into account both tuition fees and living costs, an average UK student can expect to pay around £18,000 per year, one of the most expensive university educations in the world.

Meanwhile in Germany, a country with over 40 ranked universities and nine in the top 100 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2016-2017, an average student will pay barely a third of the UK cost, at around £6,700 per year.

It’s a similar story in many other parts of Europe as well; of the top 10 cheapest countries to study abroad, eight of them were on the continent.

Most of these countries have extremely low tuition fees and many (such as Finland and Germany) charge almost no tuition fees at all.

Compare this to the United States, where an average tuition of over £31,000 is more than double the average cost of living, a pattern repeated in numerous other high-cost countries.

Top 10 most affordable countries to study

Rank

Country

Average tuition fee 

Average living cost

Average total

1

Germany*

£331

£6,369

£6,701

2

Sweden*

£13

£6,694

£6,707

3

South Africa

£3,496

£3,452

£6,948

4

Finland*

£88

£7,226

£7,313

5

Taiwan

£2,498

£5,006

£7,503

6

Denmark

£0

£8,193

£8,193

7

Austria

£650

£7,651

£8,301

8

Belgium

£741

£7,849

£8,590

9

Russia

£4,665

£4,627

£9,292

10

Norway

£110

£9,202

£9,313

*no tuition fees are typically charged, only semester / student / admin fees 

There are a number of individual universities which stand out for students looking for institutions offering the best value for money.

The Italian universities of Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa and Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna both occupy the top spot for value, and both are ranked in the top 200 worldwide.

Not only do these universities have free tuition and zero admin costs, but they also offer an endowment to help cover the cost of living for their students.

Aside from this, half of the top 10 cheapest universities are in Germany, and include the Free University of Berlin, ranked 75th in the world despite only costing around £6,000 per year.

In comparison, Columbia University in the United States (ranked 15th in the world) has an average annual cost of over £68,000.

Top 10 best value universities to study

Rank

University

Country

Tuition fee 

Living cost

Total

1

Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa

Italy

£0

£0

£0

2

Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna

Italy

£0

£0

£0

3

KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Sweden

£0

£4,569

£4,569

4

TU Dresden

Germany

£346*

£5,101

£5,447

5

University of the Witwatersrand

South Africa

£4,392

£1,513

£5,905

6

University of Bonn

Germany

£231*

£5,696

£5,927

7

University of Münster

Germany

£408*

£5,526

£5,934

8

Free University of Berlin

Germany

£518*

£5,526

£6,043

9

University of Würzburg

Germany

£177*

£5,951

£6,127

10

Aarhus University

Denmark

£0

£6,376

£6,376

*no tuition fees are typically charged, only semester / student / admin fees

Ian Strafford-Taylor, CEO of FairFX, the company who conducted the study, noted that: “The costs for UK students to attend university are steep compared to many overseas destinations, putting a significant burden on them as they start out on their career path.

“Studying abroad is certainly a viable option and we could see it becoming an alternative to taking a gap year with its opportunity to expand horizons and gain new experiences alongside an education.”

As the ability of students to explore alternative study options improves, and universities invest heavily in attracting the very best talent from abroad, the long-established flow of foreign students looking to study at British and American universities may well start becoming a two-way street.

Top 10 most expensive countries to study

 Rank

Country

Average tuition fee 

Average living cost

Average annual total

1

USA

£31,296

£14,403

£45,699

2

Australia

£18,611

£12,654

£31,265

3

New Zealand

£16,905

£12,006

£28,912

4

Canada

£15,732

£8,268

£24,140

5

Hong Kong

£12,626

£6,336

£18,963

6

United Kingdom

£8,994

£9,233

£18,227

7

Singapore

£11,882

£5,796

£17,678

8

Israel

£2,555

£13,932

£16,487

9

Switzerland

£1,152

£14,797

£15,949

10

Japan

£6,111

£8,361

£14,471

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