7 countries where higher education is free

Niall Carson/PA Images via Getty Images

As the US faces a higher education affordability crisis, students from other developed countries don’t pay anything for college.

Of the 36 developed, democratic countries that currently make up the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), seven of them subsidise tuition for public colleges and universities.

Read more: 10 mind-blowing facts that show just how dire the student-loan crisis in America is

The US, in contrast, charges the most money to attend public colleges among OECD countries. The average annual tuition for US public colleges cost more than $US6,000, according to a 2011 report from OECD. When you add up the cost of living, books, and other expenses, the average cost of US in-state public university can total $US25,290 a year, according to Value Penguin.

Using the OECD’s 2011 report, Business Insider analysed the countries where citizens don’t pay tuition fees. (Note that there were some discrepancies between the data in 2011 and the most recent data available in 2019 regarding which countries were included in the dataset. Business Insider has reached out to OECD for more information.)

Here are seven countries where students can pursue higher education for free.


Sweden does not charge tuition for both public and private colleges.

JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty ImagesStudents at Stockholm University.

The percentage of young adults who will attend university: 68%

The level of public expenditure on tertiary education per student (in USD): $US20,864

Source: OECD, PBS


Denmark spends 0.6% of its total GDP on subsidies for college students.

Anthony Coleman/View Pictures/Universal Images Group via Getty ImagesUniversity of Southern Denmark.

The percentage of young adults who will attend university: 55%

The level of public expenditure on tertiary education per student (in USD): $US17,634

Source: OECD


Finland also provides students with generous scholarships and grants to finance their studies or living expenses.

Independent Picture Service/Universal Images Group via Getty ImagesHelsinki University.

The percentage of young adults who will attend university: 69%

The level of public expenditure on tertiary education per student (in USD): $US15,402

Source: OECD


Ireland has paid tuition fees for most full-time undergraduate students since 1995.

Niall Carson/PA Images via Getty ImagesStudents checking A-level results.

The percentage of young adults who will attend university: 51%

The level of public expenditure on tertiary education per student (in USD): $US16,284

Source: OECD


Iceland tuition fees vary by your major because of differences in both the cost of studies and labour-market demands.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty ImagesReykjavik University.

The percentage of young adults who will attend university: 77%

The level of public expenditure on tertiary education per student (in USD): $US10,429

Source: OECD


Norway pays the most for college subsidies, spending 1.3% of its annual GDP.

Getty ImagesOslo, Norway’s capital city.

The percentage of young adults who will attend university: 77%

The level of public expenditure on tertiary education per student (in USD): $US18,942

Source: OECD


The Czech Republic provides small subsidies to help students with college costs aside from covering the cost of tuition.

Sean Gallup/NewsmakersCzech university students.

The percentage of young adults who will attend university: 59%

The level of public expenditure on tertiary education per student (in USD): $US8,738

Source: OECD

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