As we’re all aware, Europe is dominating the national media headlines this summer. However, did you know that many European countries are absolutely amazing places to be a university student? And more importantly UK students still have access to this.
Although the UK is leaving the EU on the 31st January 2020, there's still plenty of reasons why you might want to consider studying your degree abroad.
But which European countries do you move to and how do you make your choice?
Our top 10 best countries in Europe to be a student are based on a plethora of options from the cost of living, course fees and classes being taught in English, to studying in stylish city locations, well regarded and expert tutors and, let’s not forget, the hot sunny weather!
QS World University rankings place 2 universities in Switzerland in the top 15 universities in the world: ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, 9th in the world) and Ecolé Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (14th in the world). Not a bad accolade to consider studying there.
The mountain air, clean living and breath-taking beautiful scenery only add to the allure.
The tuition fees are about 2/3rds the cost of studying in the UK.
This is slightly more than other European neighbours, but it’s more than compensated for with the bustling student life in many of the famous cities as well as the chance to learn a second language as you study: French, German or Italian, depending on which part of Switzerland you study in.
Where to start?
Paris, the city of love? Lyon? or Toulouse, a typical student city?
Experiencing France as a student is absolutely gorgeous; from cosmopolitan living to cultural nightlife it’s one of the nearest EU countries to the UK.
Depending where you live, you may spend less time travelling to and from France than you would travelling home to your family from certain parts of the UK.
In autumn 2019, French tuition fees for UK students were set at 170 euros per year for a 3 year undergraduate degree at a state university.
France’s reputation precedes itself as one of the most prestigious education systems in the world. This in turn attracts millions of international students from countries all over the world.
Sorbonne University and the University of Paris are currently ranked among the best in the country.
3. The Netherlands
Although you will be charged tuition fees if you study here, student loans do cover the full costs for any EU student.
With the fees on average 1,984 euros a year, the savings speak for themselves.
Many classes are taught in English, and as well as many fluent English-speaking Netherlanders, the international student life is very popular in places such as Leiden University and the University of Groningen.
The Dutch universities and their top quality teaching is focused on research in science and languages as opposed to arts and humanities.
The Netherlands is well connected to most other European cities with Paris and Berlin to name but two, just a train journey away.
Denmark is a great European country offering EU students free tuition, and hundreds of courses taught in English.
You can also learn the Danish language for free on top of your studies.
Denmark is a great place to explore Nordic culture with one of the lowest crime rates in the world, you’re studying in a truly safe environment.
You do need to be aware that the cost of living is quite high in any of the Scandinavian countries, so you will need to take this into account.
They are voted one of the happiest places to live in the world, so they must be doing something right!
It’s top performing university is (not surprisingly) the University of Copenhagen.
This country offers a very similar model to Denmark (as do Norway and Sweden as well) in terms of free tuitions fees, a Nordic culture and the cost of living.
It’s teaching quality/reputation is also exceptionally high as proven by its appearance in several international leagues tables e.g. Times Higher World University rankings where it consistently reigns year after year.
There are a smaller number of universities to choose from. There are 14 at present, which focus on research and development but there are lots of polytechnics (24) for more vocational degrees.
The University of Helsinki and Aalto University are two of the best, but the others are definitely worth a look too.
Barcelona, Lisbon, Madrid. All are big Spanish cities, teeming with internationals students.
Spanish is one of the most spoken languages in the world and Spain is famous for its mediterranean lifestyle: afternoon siestas, beautiful coastal beaches and music and art festivals.
With tuition fees of around 1,800 euros per month and the cost of living being relatively inexpensive, this is a great choice. Most courses are over-subscribed, so there is stiff competition for places.
However, with EU nationals competing on an equal footing with Spanish nationals, persevere with your application.
Madrid is currently home to some of the best Spanish universities, including:
- Universidad Autónoma de Madrid
- University of Barcelona
- Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
- Complutense University of Madrid
- University of Navarra.
However, it's worth doing your research, as there are other universities in addition to these that are considered best for international students.
German universities, like German engineering are renowned for their high quality expertise in teaching.
They offer free tuition fees (this includes UK students) and with the thriving German student life in places such as Berlin or Munich, what’s not to like!
The highly regarded Times Higher Education World University rankings has 36 institutions in this list from Germany and the country itself has over 400 universities offering over 14,000 degree courses.
This may be why it’s the third most popular country in the world to study at after the UK and North America.
German higher education is split into 16 federal regions across the country each having responsibility for their own area rather than a national overview as in the UK.
The best universities in Germany currently include LMU Munich, Technical University of Munich, Heidelberg University, Humboldt University of Berlin, and Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin.
The laid back relaxed attitude of this country is reflected in both its students and universities.
Although tuition fees are charged, they are usually only 1,500 euros a year for a typical undergraduate degree; a significant saving on UK fees.
All the most famous cities; Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan have prestigious universities attached to them but the University of Bologna is not only a top rated university in league tables but is thought to be one of the oldest universities in the world!
Other top universities in the country include the University of Padua, Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa and Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies.
Throughout the country, some courses are taught in English but a lot are in Italian, so you may want to brush up on your language skills.
You’ll need these for living in the cities as most Italian universities don’t offer halls of residence but do offer help to all EU students in finding accommodation. As the saying goes, when in Rome…!
Free tuition fees, an overflowing cultural arts history and an unexpectedly middling cost of living make Austria a little known gem in the heart of Europe.
Due to the country’s heritage, arts are more of a focus for student courses across most of the excellent universities (although sciences are offered).
You will find that most courses are taught in German so knowledge of the language is essential.
For a country relatively small in size it has 3 universities in the QS World University rankings and 5 in the Times Higher Education list, with the most well known and highest ranked being the University of Vienna.
Other good universities include Universität Innsbruck (lots of international students here), Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz and TU Wien.
10. Republic of Ireland
An English speaking country, celebrated for its youth culture and just on our doorstep, Ireland has 8 universities, the most eminent being Trinity College Dublin.
The others include:
- University College Dublin
- National University of Ireland, Galway
- University College Cork
- Dublin City University
- Maynooth University
- The University of Limerick
- Tecnological University Dublin.
This university is famous on the world stage for its research in science and medicine. Ireland is steeped in Gaelic culture but did you know that its tuition fees are on average only 3,000 euros per year, around a third of the cost of UK fees?
Due to its excellence in the education sector Ireland also has thousands of postgraduate courses to choose from and is a relatively safe and friendly place to study.
If one of these countries isn’t for you but you still wish to study in Europe there are numerous other countries to apply to. With English taught at more than 5.000 degree courses across mainland Europe you’ll not run out of options to choose from.
How do I apply to European universities?
If all these countries sound so thrilling and inspiring to study in, how do you apply and is the reality really as glamorous as expected?
As the UK is still currently part of the EU (European Union) up until 31st January 2020, you are entitled to apply to any university in an EU country under the same terms as students applying in their home country without the need for an extra visa.
However, there are lots of key decisions to make, including:
- which are the best universities?
- what will it cost me?
- will there be a language barrier?
- how and when do I apply?
- are there grants, scholarships or student loans to support me?
League tables are a fantastic way to narrow down your choice of university and country.
The Times Higher list is a brilliant read for the top 200 European universities, covering 22 different countries and the Top Universities guide also provides cool info on the student lifestyle in each country.
Can I afford the fees?
The student loans system is unique to the UK (similar systems do exist in most European countries but they are usually for home students not UK ones) and in other countries study costs vary enormously.
For example, in countries featured in the top 200 best European universities, UK students wanting to study in Germany and Austria don’t pay any tuition fees at all, and you just have to cover your student living costs. In France you pay very low fees, whereas in Switzerland your tuition fees can vary between 1500 to 6,000 Euros per year. Comparison fee tables are a must read.
What about speaking the language?
If you’re wanting to study at a top European university and you don’t speak the language of the home country this can be a barrier but not unsurmountable.
For example, in The Netherlands over 90% of the population speak English and many degree courses are available in English.
This can lessen in countries such as Spain or Italy, where the home language is the dominant one but there are still English speaking degrees available. Giving yourself plenty of time for research to find the right university and the right English speaking course is key.
What's involved in the application process?
Unlike many UK universities there can be 2 to 3 intakes of undergraduate students in any one year, which means application deadlines across all European countries span all 12 months of the year.
This month by month, country by country application deadline calendar is an awesome planning tool.
As the most popular courses do get over subscribed, it’s worth applying early and having a contingency plan for secondary course options.
This doesn’t always mean having to fill in a multitude of application forms via individual universities which can become quite tiresome.
For a fee there are online sites which allow you to make all your applications in one place. EUNICAS is one example across countries and Uni Assist is a similar German system to UCAS in the UK.
What financial support is available?
Even though many EU countries don’t currently charge tuition fees to UK students, the cost of student living can still be quite high, e.g. in the Scandinavian countries.
This is why financial support can be a real necessity. The Netherlands and Italy are the only two major European countries which offer a student loan style support system to international UK students as opposed to just home students.
However, there are other avenues worth exploring including scholarships which individual universities offer for key student groups e.g. women from ethnic minorities, or grants from industry bodies for specific subjects. Scholarship Portal is worth searching in-depth as is ERASMUS.
The best European countries offer a highly credible and thrilling alternative to UK universities. This is a golden opportunity which may not be around for future generations, so grasp the moment now.
For more tips and advice on applying to study in Europe, please see: